Arcade Fire At The o2 Arena

Let me stand next to your fire.
A simple consideration when thinking of seeing a band play live, but one seemingly lost on musicians who choose to play gigs in the soulless environs of stadiums.
Last night I saw Arcade Fire perform at the o2 Arena.
At least I think it was them.
It’s hard to tell, as I’d have needed binoculars to make out the blurry figures on a stage nigh on two nautical miles from my seat.
And I was by no means the furthest away either.
This was my first experience of the o2 Arena itself, and it conjured a nightmare vision of the future for popular gigs.
Uniform, grey, insipid colours and aesthetics wash over every aspect of its design; having been specifically engineered to be a jack of all events.
And master of none.
The only consideration of the o2 Arena is to fleece as much money as is humanly possible from every potential scene it can host.

From the number of people it can accommodate, and the seemingly endless rows of stalls outside selling useless tat to the sheep like masses; to the numerous wanky corporate sections designed for individuals with more money than class, so they can feel superior to the common ticket holders.
Naturally, the only people this idea actually appeals to are those with crushing inferiority complexes.
The o2’s very being is an affront to everything live music should be.
Still, I’ve come to expect this from the nihilistic, bullshit consumer culture our forefathers have created for us.
What I don’t expect is for any band with an ounce of integrity to play venues like these.
Something I previously ascribed to Arcade Fire.
Possessing only their debut album in my now outdated record collection, I may not have the most exhaustive understanding of their musical merits and motivations; but they present themselves as a group who are genuinely interested in communicating with an audience.
Which sort of makes their decision to play the o2 all the more galling.
I wonder what sort of music lover would spend so much money on a show like this?

The people around me soon provide an answer to this riddle.
Flanked by many a suited fan, seemingly dropping in from their offices on the way home tonight, I’m in the midst of the most middle class event of the night.

One of these city boys – who really is old enough to know better – successfully manages to spill his beer down the back of some poor kid’s coat as he drunkenly clambers over seats to find his assigned view for the night.
Needless to say, an apology was not forthcoming.
But pretty soon the band take to the stage; forcing me to leave my in no way hypocritical bourgeois rage to one side, and try to enjoy what I’ve come here to see.

Having been rather taken by the eclecticism of Arcade Fire’s studio sound, I was most looking forward to seeing how this would translate for a live performance.

One of the reasons for their diverse music is sheer weight of numbers, with Arcade Fire’s family featuring seven musical brothers and sisters.

So instead of having a singer or a drummer, musical roles can be shared around the multi talented ensemble.

Husband and wife duo, Win Butler and Regine Chassange, front the band; sharing singing duties between the two of them and giving a focal point for the audience.

There’s an anthemic quality to much of Arcade Fire’s body of work; with songs often repeating the simple formula of matching soaring music with emotive lyrics and sing along choruses.

This style has inspired a cult like following to the Arcade Fire’s musical church.

At the risk of being labelled a pariah, and god knows churches have done far worse than that to people who don’t agree with their views, it’s a trick that gets old for an entire concert.

Worst of all, the band’s joy of playing for an audience feels orchestrated.

As if gig after gig has robbed the cast of any spontaneity that appeared to be the hallmark of earlier Arcade Fire concerts, as they run through the same rigid routines over and over again.

Perhaps their newer material is the problem; as they seem far more comfortable when falling back on songs that originally forced their music into the public spotlight. 

Or maybe it’s the venue they’ve chosen, which really doesn’t lend itself to a band connecting with their fans.

And what’s the point of a show if not this?

If fans woke up, to paraphrase one of Arcade Fire’s most popular tracks, and simply refused to buy tickets at stadiums that represent black holes for live music’s very raison dêtre; bands would stop booking these non descipt venues.
The o2 Arena would go back to selling out corporate events.

Or better yet, burn to the ground.

Now that’s one fire I’d pay to stand next to.

Jonathan Campbell

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Dates ‘n stuff

December 2010