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The Arcade Fire at the Phoenix Park Big Top
No rabble-rousing rock panto pandering, no gratuitous guitar solos or simplistic speechifying, just towering songs garnished with soaring melodies and counter-melodies.
Peter Murphy, 01 Nov 2007
You couldn’t make it up. Arcade Fire, a band who might have been designed by some barmy think-tank comprised of Edward Gorey, Tim Burton and Lewis Carroll, playing in a bloody great big top in the green heart of the city as the moon waxes down on the first inklings of Samhain season, when the souls of the dead slip through the semi-permeable membrane that separates the spirit world from the material. Hoo-boy. Even the journey from the fleshpots out to the Phoenix Park takes on the air of a Biblical trek towards a burlap-roofed revival, the first night of the Arcadians’ Neon Bible victory lap. Intensities in tent cities, to paraphrase the Nuge.
But hang on, who are those masked maestros? Why, it’s special guests Clinic, cranking out distorted spaghetti western guitar and Moe Tucker jungle drums like some Frankensteinian mash-up of Suicide, Nash The Slash and The Cramps. Darn good they are too, even if they seem to sail over the heads of the assembly.
But come nine o’ clock the house lights go out and the oddly oval stage screens (halfway between FW Murnau and Twelve Monkeys) channel televangelist broadcasts as the headliners file on looking like the cast of Carnivale, or maybe the Very Special People from Riddley Walker, rubbing up against each other in the hope of generating their very own Reveal.
Out of a dissonant Velvets din a 4/4 pulse takes form, and the twin millenarian klaxons of ‘Black Mirror’ and ‘Keep The Car Running’ give way to ‘Laika’, ‘No Cars Go’ and ‘Haiti’. The overall effect is akin to classic big band indie formations like The Triffids or early Waterboys, and at times, Bruce Springsteen stranded on a blood-red Fassbinder set. No rabble-rousing rock panto pandering, no gratuitous guitar solos or simplistic speechifying, just towering songs garnished with soaring melodies and counter-melodies.
Mind you, Arcade Fire’s rise to prominence is a bittersweet victory for those of us under five foot eight. Tonight’s expanded audience includes a fair amount of two-fisted-drinking goons barging through the crowd, having forgotten every bit of manners their mothers taught them. Thankfully, the music prevails. AF gigs are the kind of events where the crowd sings Morricone-scaled string arrangements louder than the lyrics. Granted, there are few surprises on the set list, but the night demands bold strokes. Hearing ‘Tunnels’ in this setting is like reliving the first time you saw The Wizard Of Oz. Crawl through the secret subterranean passages of ‘Power Out’ and you emerge blinking in the light of ‘Rebellion’, the pipe organ majesty of ‘Intervention’ and the closing ‘Wake Up’, which is everything you imagine it would be in a tented coliseum.