The Spanish novelist Cervantes once wrote, “Where there is music there can be no evil.”
One of my deepest ambitions came true in London’s Hyde Park. The sight of the Montreal-based group The Arcade Fire swaggering out on stage wearing their carnival-inspired giant papier mache heads and bobbing to rapturous applause from 60,000 fans was gold.
There was no better way to greet one of the most seductive summer days recorded in Britain in years – the crispy air was in the low-20ºs, sunlight was toasty, putting everyone in a gregarious mood, and dusk was only going to come at 10pm.
1) WIN BUTLER SAYS THINGS THAT MAKE YOU CHEER
“For those of you who felt uncomfortable about dressing up, I’m not sorry.”
These words fell casually from the lips of frontman Win Butler, immediately justifying every weird/eccentric outfit/behavior the Grammy-winning Canadian art-rock group has indulged in over the last decade. The band has made a habit of asking fans to attend their shows in make-up, tuxedos and carnival gear.
And why shouldn’t people dress up to attend festive concerts? Why not have a good time, express yourself and goof around for a bit? I never understood Debbie Downers who say things like, “You’re too old to be dressing up or dancing. You’re too old to do this, do that…”
Are they just waiting for the day when they’re too old to breathe?
2) ARCADE FIRE IS ART
Critics have called the band “a bunch of dour northerners making gay art music”. My comeback has always been, “So what?” Music is therapy if it makes you bop, no matter who makes it. It’s chicken soup for the soul.
An Arcade Fire concert is a moving affair. It is vivid and imaginative, levitated by the band’s full-hearted identity with art, love and the human condition. If you’re a self-loathing art student growing your own organic vegetables while scripting for indie films, the closest thing to a spiritual outing.
This is not a concert review. While I’m familiar with most Arcade Fire songs, I’m not a purist who can tell you the nuanced differences between the versions of ‘Crown Of Love’ at Glastonbury and British Summer at Hyde Park, or what Win Butler’s burp smells like. But I know this – the generous fans, the love, the delicious weather and the collective ambition to watch one of the greatest and most intelligent bands of the last decade made the show unforgettable.
3) THE FANS REALLY KNOW HOW TO HAVE FUN
Happy faces crinkled from laughing were all around. No one was standing motionless with a sullen face. Or texting away. The young, the old, the office employee, the undergrad, the tourist, the well-heeled, the scrappy art student, the off-duty cook, everyone was engaged by the happy group banging away on stage.
Every eye contact was greeted with a warm grin, and a toast of beer, or champagne, or “HELLO! Isn’t this what summer’s about?” Yes.
Just before they launched into ‘Here Comes The Night’, Butler said, “Shhh… don’t wake the rich people up,” referring to the residents near the park who complained about the British Summer Time concerts.
4) THE BAND IS RUTHLESSLY COMMITTED TO THE SHOW
By now, these six guys would have played the same songs hundreds of times, but they’re clearly not letting up on the energy. Every drum beat, cymbal crash and trigger of the guitar strings is greeted with a contagious physicality, as though it was their last show on earth.
5) THEY HAVE BRILLIANT SONGS.
The music has a way of worming under your skin. It’s effectual, groovy, happy. The set list of artsy rock tunes included:
‘Normal Person’ / ‘Rebellion (Lies)’ / ‘The Suburbs’ / ‘Ready To Start’ / ‘Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)’ / ‘Crown Of Love’ / ‘We Exist’ / ‘Intervention’
‘Antichrist Television Blues’ / ‘No Cars Go’ / ‘Reflektor’ / ‘Here Comes The Night Time’ / ‘Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)’
As a final encore, the band thundered into their loudest, mightiest monsoon-of-a-song, ‘Wake Up’.
Summer experienced. An Arcade Summer.