The Arcade Fire @ University of London Union, 17th March 2005

Support this evening comes from Jose Gonzalez, looking and in name sounding the archetypal Spaniard. Flamenco is not on the agenda however, with Gonzalez announcing he is in fact Swedish, and from that point launches into some very proficient strumming. His voice is hard to pin down, but I keep getting reminded of the guy from Massive Attack. This is confirmed with a closing acoustic cover of Teardrop by said band. Nothing particularly special, but some very nice stripped down guitar work certainly gets the audience in the mood.

What was a wave of anticipation before, becomes a full flood of charged excitement as various members of The Arcade Fire appear to tune guitars, fiddle with accordions and chat to recognized people in the crowd. On the relatively small ULU stage the band have to find a space to set up amongst numerous guitars, keyboards, and assorted pieces of percussion and string instruments. Once ready, the band members gaze intently into the audience, hold that pose for five, then in synchrony launch into the opening salvo of guitars, and ferocious banging, and chanting that is Wake Up. And my word was it worth the anticipation. Arguably the most accessible song on debut album Funeral, the combination of violins, guitars, background chanting and Win Butler's distinctive vocals combine to set the scene brilliantly for the evening. Forthcoming debut single Neighborhood # 2 (Laika) continues the momentum. The distinctive figure of lanky, ginger Richard, guitarist-cum-backing vocals-cum-keyboardist-cum-celloist-cum-drummer dons a motorcycle crash helmet and he and fellow odd job man Will proceed to bash the hell out of each other, the stage, keyboards, and anything else they can find with a pair of drumsticks. As Regine hops around the stage yelping and husband Win bangs away on his guitar, the two stand-in drummers collapse in the corner still whacking each other to bits. An amusing display it may be, but one hell of a song it sure is.

The tempo is downgraded after that tumultuous opening and we are treated to the joys of the Arcade Fires’ back catalogue from preceding EP Us Kids Know, with No Cars Go being the standout. This is followed by the French vocals and chiming guitar of beautiful Funeral centerpiece Haiti, then, after a couple more oldies, both displaying the bands melodic, but no less breathtaking capabilities, Une Annee Sans Lumiere further displays the French influences garnered from their new found home in Montreal. Like several Funeral songs, this epic builds out of nowhere into a full out guitar stomp. This leads perfectly into what is undoubtedly the highlight of the evening; the awesomely catchy Power Out with its crashing guitars and rhythmic drumming sending a concerted few jumping away. Although The Arcade Fire are hardly a 'wall-o-noise band,' the feedback left at the end allows for a frantic change of instruments before leading straight into Rebellion (Lies). Undoubtedly a future single, this duo provide the pillars that support the whole structure of the album, and together live, forms perhaps the most electrifying nine odd minutes of music I have ever heard.

These foundations however, allow the substance of the album to shine through and it is on that note that the Arcade Fire finish proceedings. Crown Of Love displays that ever musically developing template again, and after an impromptu airing of Neighbourhood # 4 (7 Kettles), probably the only weak track on the album, we reach the end with the epic Tunnels, ending again on fantastically interwoven strings and guitars.

Following a brief break, the band return to showcase a new song, Intervention, which confirms that the Arcade Fire are here to stay. In contrast to the hectic earlier events, In The Backseat brings the set, as it does the album, to a haunting end. Regine’s Bjork like vocals wash over an enraptured ULU audience, and as the band march from the stage they shed their electric instruments, pick up acoustic versions, and re-emerge from a side door to stomp their way through the applauding crowd. This is a fitting end to a gig with a palpable air of intimacy, with frequent banter flowing between the band and the crowd, particularly with the noticeably large number of North Americans present.

It is gratifying to see this band beginning to win over people, when their arrival in the UK has been refreshingly devoid of overblown hype in the music press that normally surrounds similar exciting new acts. However, on the strength of the album and their live performance, and as demonstrated across the other side of the Atlantic, this band will be huge. And very much deservedly so.

Stuart Davey