It’s almost exactly 6 years since the Arcade Fire toured Australia, and they’ve come a mighty long way in that time. Then – they had passages of brilliance, interspersed with some oddly flat moments; Now? I’ll get to that in a minute.
Rounding the familiar hill of the Myer Music bowl on a pleasant Melbourne night was a welcome reminder of what a great venue it is: sheltered from the wind, grassy, spacious, and well stocked with bars and toilets. Good location doesn’t come at the cost of comfort – something that is especially appreciated given that Mrs LTLT is rapidly approaching what you’d describe as ‘heavily pregnant’…! Diplo jumped on stage just after we arrived and played a pretty decent diplo-style set (trap-ish tribal-ish dubstep-ish) to a largely disinterested crowd . He tried to drop some better known tunes (like the awesome ‘Wildfire’ by SBTRKT) to get the crowd moving (alongside stuff like TNGHT) but in the end it was more ‘head-nodding’ than ‘hip-shaking’
The band hit the stage wearing their ‘big head’ masks as seen in the Reflektor video clip , announcing “this is an old one” before starting the intro to Rebellion (lies) from Funeral. The intro, however, was as far as they got before the actual band came on stage and kicked these imposters (presumably ‘The Reflektors‘) off the stage! Quite a whimsical start to the night. Win, Regine and co apologised and as they all took up their instruments, started jamming out the groove for the true set opener: ‘Normal Person’. This nice rocky start the set was muted a little by the sound (a bit quiet and lacking presence) but this was resolved (largely) as the night wore on. Moving straight out of this and into a much bigger sounding ‘Rebellion (lies)’ got the crowd absolutely humming before exploding into rapture with ‘Wake Up’. There ain’t much more joyous than seeing this played live, with the whole crowd howling along and the sound now significantly louder and perfectly clear.
A minimalist version of ‘My Body is a Cage’ showed where they’d improved – on the last tour they lost everyone when things went quiet but this time they pulled it off and used the slower songs to vary the mood of the set. This first interlude didn’t last long as the opening notes of ‘Keep the Car Running’ sent the bowl into meltdown. There’s something theatric, almost cinematic, about an Arcade Fire performance. As if all the band members are not just playing songs, but playing their roles in the ‘production’ and it ties in perfectly with the slew of media accompanying the release of Reflektor and acts to lift their performance to something above a band laying through their (quite considerable amount of) hits.
After another slower, but never less than captivating, patch where they played ‘Ocean of Noise’ and ‘The Suburbs’ the set then went about a sustained hit parade for the next 30-40 minutes. It’s quite ridiculous how many big songs they have, something rammed home with the procession of: It’s never over (Hey Orpheus), Afterlife, and the pinnacle of the set: the back-to-back run of Sprawl II (Mountains beyond Monutains) and No Cars Go which coincided with perfect, loud sound and an incredible crowd response. The thumping beat of Joan of Arc kept the crowd dancing as the (actual) band re-donned some of the big head masks for a maxed out cover of INXS’s ‘Devil Inside’. The main set finished with the carnivale-themed ‘Here comes the night time’ and a burst of confetti cannons as they left for a brief break.
Returning for their encore they opened with Ready to Start, and it became apparent that the sound engineer must have spilt a beer on the desk… or something… because the sound was almost back where it started and the mix was never quite as good for the rest of the set – a shame as it took a little of the power out of what were some pretty energetic and raucous versions of the incredible Reflektor and visceral Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out). Tune-wise, the only notable omission was the much loved Neighbourhood #1, which no doubt stung a few people a little, but there is no doubting the incredible catalogue that this band now has to choose from – grown significantly with the latest record.
Still, this was not enough to diminish what was an incredible performance from a band that are undoubtedly at the top of their game and have grown into a genuine big arena act. How much bigger can they go from here? On their current form (both recorded and in the live arena) I’d say the sky is the limit.