Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Feature: The Best Gig of 2013

As a post-Christmas treat, here's a special feature on my favourite gig of the year: Arcade Fire at London's Roundhouse.

12th November 2013. Just ten minutes had elapsed, yet I had already bought a Pete Doherty t-shirt, my mate had done likewise with an Amy Winehouse number, and now I was in advanced negotiations to purchase a top hat. Yep, I could only be in Camden. The trendy North London suburb is home to the famous Roundhouse venue, which would be hosting Canada's finest tonight: Arcade Fire. Or, 'The Reflektors', as it had been billed. On arrival, I was actually slightly disappointed to find a genuine band called The Reflektors hadn't pulled off the greatest marketing ploy since somebody decided to price an item at 99p. Ah well, I would have to make do with seeing one of the biggest bands in the planet at the 3,000 capacity venue instead. 

I was one of the lucky few to have snagged a golden ticket to the gig, after the customary event of waking up at the crack of dawn and bashing refresh like a crazed maniac. Although, I say that, but I actually found this to be one of the easiest gigs to get tickets to - my refresh count must have been in single figures before racing through the purchase page. But judging by the Twitter reaction afterwards, I was pretty much on my own in that respect. Make no bones about it: this was a hugely in-demand gig, and I had secured a ticket to it pretty comfortably. Naturally, I immediately felt vastly superior to other people.

My innate fear of pint prices in London came to the fore in the first drinking establishment that we frequented. £4.20 a pint!! The night was threatening to be totally derailed, thanks to a crippling state of sobriety. But having turned down the opportunity of looking like a complete bellend by buying and wearing a bloody top hat, the day (night) was miraculously saved! Happy Hour 5-7pm? 50% off all drinks? We had found our Camden watering hole and all was well in the world once again.

But I should probably stop prattling on about top hats and affordable pints- I'm sure you want to know what the band were actually like. On to the gig then. Scanning the sizeable queue to the Roundhouse, you could already sense that the atmosphere here was a little different to normal...thousands of people in suits and fancy dress does that, I suppose. For a cold, wet Tuesday night in London, people were in great spirits - and with good reason, too.

On entering the plush surroundings of the Roundhouse, it was really something else. This was going to be special. People had really gone to town on their fancy dress and I especially looked absolutely fantastic in my suit. Then, I noticed that a disguised Win Butler was singing lead for the Mariachi band upstairs. There was free face painting by the bar. Arcade Fire mystifyingly seemed to get some stick for the mandatory dress code idea, but from what I experienced, it only contributed to a uniquely jovial atmosphere.

The set itself was Reflektor-heavy, as you might expect. Kicking off with the title track, each and every cut off the new record received a rapturous reception. The band really seem to have nailed these songs live already- if anything, they come across better in these surroundings. Whether they will translate as well to festival headline slots is another question, but in an intimate venue such as this, you can really start to 'get' Reflektor.

The older songs that were interspersed with the newer material - Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out), Haiti and Sprawl II - went down similarly well. Yet the best-received songs had to be the sweaty, pogoing Normal Person and Here Comes the Night Time, which was accompanied by a mass explosion of confetti. This was half disco hall, half Haitian festival.

For a band who have sometimes been accused of taking themselves too seriously - there are, after all, a heck of a lot of doomsday lyrics in their repertoire - this marked a new chapter in their career and a noticeable shift in their sound, look and attitude. Arcade Fire are back, and this time, they're going to enjoy themselves.

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