For a band who have sometimes been accused of taking themselves too seriously, Arcade Fire know how to throw a party. Drums and guitars are played over band members’ heads while singer Win Butler showers water over the open air amphitheatre’s crammed in crowd, who rapturously bellow every “whoah ohh”. Meanwhile, residents in flats nearby are dancing on their balconies. It’s a remarkable – if typically Mancunian – sight, just a month after the Arena bombing. “We’re not fucking scared,” Butler tells the Manchester international festival audience. “Thank you being such an inspiration to the rest of the world. God bless you, Manchester.”
The problem with a mood of defiant celebration is that when you’re this far up, the only place to go is down, but Montreal’s finest sidestep this by keeping the party rolling for 90 minutes. Butler gets so carried away after an exuberant Here Comes the Night Time that he claims, “That’s the best we’ve ever sung that song.”
Arcade Fire are one of the world’s biggest bands precisely because of such mastery of the uplifting and anthemic. New material from forthcoming fifth album Everything Now continues to showcase their uncanny ability to subtly reinvent their sound while keeping audiences’ hands above their heads. Sadly, there’s no Chemistry, the track debuted earlier this week in London, which channels their inner Abba. However, Signs of Life picks a trick from Talking Heads’ Once in a Lifetime and sets an existential/midlife crisis to jerky, exhilarating rhythms.
Everything Now turns internet/information overload (“Every song that I’ve ever heard is playing at the same time”) into another Abba-esque pop joy. Creature Comfort’s juddering groove will have Saturday night beer monsters swaggering, but it hits the mainstream obsession with celebrity in the solar plexus: “God make me famous, if you can, just make it painless”.
The rest of the set abseils home on predictable but joyful greatest hits. Régine Chassagne takes a rare lead vocal and grabs handfuls of streamers for a disco-tastic Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains). There are dips into New Order’s Temptation and Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart. Songs from the band’s 2004 debut, Funeral, prompt handclaps and shoutalongs and there’s even some comedy, when the smoke machine seemingly malfunctions and nine musicians and half the crowd disappear in fluffy clouds. Is this Arcade on fire again? Same as it ever was.