ARCADE FIRE, York Hall – Evening Standard, 5 July 2017

As they strode through the crowd in an east London sports hall to the space where a boxing ring normally is, nine returning musicians were introduced as “The undefeated Arcade Fire!”

This was a heavyweight fixture, an intimate first opportunity for London to hear songs from a fifth album by a Montreal band who are more commonly found headlining arenas or festivals. They have a habit of doing these small-scale reintroductions, though in this case their need for an unusual venue outweighed a few more practical concerns. It was hotter than Tyson Fury’s jockstrap in there, and the sound, while loud, was often indistinct.

However, the sweaty, cramped conditons on the central stage made for a feverish atmosphere. These constant instrument swappers had to go about their business in jostling proximity, with frontman Win Butler standing on an amp perhaps less to goad the crowd and more to get some breathing space. His brother, class clown Will, somehow stampeded across all four corners hitting everything in sight with a drumstick.

The imminent new album is called Everything Now and sees the band mocking brands, with much talk of “synergy” on social media and Win’s baseball jacket featuring an “EN” globe logo. The conceit of the title track, that the internet crushes us with choice, was pretty obvious, but the song’s disco flourishes were a delight. Creature Comfort showed darker humour, ironically suggesting that fame or suicide are life’s only options and proposing “our first record” as the ideal soundtrack for the latter. That record, Funeral from 2004, actually provided many of the evening’s most euphoric moments, especially with the massed singing of Wake Up.

As they have progressed they have shifted from rabble rousers to groove makers, working with James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem on their last album and Thomas Bangalter from Daft Punk on the next. Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), an early indication of that dancey direction, was a marvellous showcase for the talents of a red jumpsuited Régine Chassagne, who sang high and waved streamers. No doubt larger gigs will follow, but this one was a knockout.

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