We Hate It When Our Bands Become Successful – Arcade Fire at the O2

God, I hate corporate venues. I hate Ticketmaster, and I hate the way fans of bands get screwed every time their band plays somewhere like the O2. Why? Because you get forced into trying to buy tickets in some horrendous BUY NOW LIMITED SALE frenzy, hopefully clicking “retry” as the web page times out, until you finally manage to get a pair of tickets somewhere up in the roof. This is pre-sale, mind, even before the full release. The event sells out quickly. Then, of course, a few days before showtime, “a limited additional number of tickets” goes on sale. And natch, these are nicer seats, closer to the stage and everything. All because the venue tried flogging the tickets to their corporate snollygosters, who, funnily enough, aren’t particularly interested in seeing a bunch of hairies from Montreal play hurdy-gurdies in 3/4 time.

Corporate gigs suck ass. Give me a “stand where you like” ticket, sold by someone reasonably nice, in a lovely venue like Bush Hall or Union Chapel any time of day. Maybe it’s good that I generally like bands that not all that many other people like, I suppose. Not for the band, of course – they probably want to sell tens of thousands of tickets somewhere like the O2, at £30+ a pop. Pays the rent, dunnit?

Moaning aside, I’d heard good things about the O2 Arena, previously known as the Horrendous White Elephant Situated On A Heavily Polluted Ex-Gasworks In A Not Very Nice Part Of London. The missus had even been there a few times and enjoyed it. And I can see it from my desk. And you know what, it’s….ok….ish.

Here to see those fine purveyors of anthemic Canadian rabble-rousing millennial angst uplifting doom merchants Arcade Fire, ably supported by hippy-dippy Pan impersonator, and all round horn-dog Devendra Banhart. At least, all the women I know hope he’s a horn-dog. Apparently he’s quite the attractive fellow. I can’t judge, frankly, as I can’t think of him without seeing this picture in my head:

Hello, Laydeez

Whatever floats your boat, I suppose, ladies.

In any case, would our Dev be able to fill out the cavernous interior of the O2 with his quirky freak-folk? No idea. None whatsoever. You see, by the time we got there, hunger reigned and by the time food had been eaten, he’d buggered off. Mind you, from our seats up in the Gods, I’d doubt we’d have been able to see if he was in a frock, a smock, or a diving costume. I hate arenas.

Arcade Fire have been touted as one of the few bands in recent decades to make the jump from Indie Stardom to genuine Arena fillers. And they’ve done so, as the charming Win Butler points out late in the show, without having had a hit record1. Arcade Fire have become BIG. Which, as you’d probably guessed from the title of this post, has its irksome qualities. Like having to traipse out to this big bloody tent. Whilst it is indeed a stunning place, the venue hasn’t seemed to work out that about a third of the crowd (at least) can’t see anything of the band, and the smallish video screen behind the band doesn’t help all that much. Come on O2, shell out on some proper screens either side of the stage so we can see the band.

After the dour Neon Bible, hopes were high for this year’s follow-up The Suburbs, which have been slightly dashed, as the record is overlong and hasn’t quite shrugged off that oppressive meh-ness of Neon Bible. Opener “Ready To Start” is fine, all that you’d expect from 2010 vintage Arcade Fire, and follow-up “Keep The Car Running” (featuring an imaginative video of a car driving along a highway) certainly has that propulsion and drive that have catapulted them to this level of stardom, but the sound is claggy, with little space for any delicacy or intricacy. That doesn’t matter so much when “Laika” is played. The first of the Funeral songs, you are reminded of why you – and anyone else with any sense – loved that album. Astonishing isn’t quite the right word. The hairs on my arms stood to attention, and looking down, we could see the standing hordes going mental to the clattering drums, frenetic violins and the nearly screamed vocals. You don’t often get huge crowds singing along to lines like “Our mother should have just named you Laika”.

Then we’re back down to earth with the U2-a-go-go “No Cars Go”, with “Haiti” following it, lacking the space that made it such a compelling song on Funeral. You know, folks, sometimes you need to be quiet to make the loudest noise. The next newie features Régine Chassagne dancing around with those twirly ribbony things (I have no idea what they are called). What’s next, a mime? Being stuck inside an invisible box? “Rococo” (their Smog tribute) is ok, “My Body Is A Cage” is doomy apocalyptic dullness personified, and “The Suburbs” was frankly a touch dull. “Crown Of Love” isn’t much cheerier than “My Body Is A Cage”, but demonstrates how their early restlessness – you know, that sudden tempo change – turn a reasonable album track into something far more interesting; a trick their last two albums seem to have forgotten. When, on listening to either Neon Bible or The Suburbs, have you been surprised?

And this problem gets thrown into sharp relief again with the “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)/Rebellion (Lies)” medley (segue). Like “Laika”, it’s stunning. Both songs are driven onward by crazy drumming; there’s a ridiculous amount of energy emanating from the band. Mad percussionist bloke runs around the stage like a hyperactive kid that’s been fed too many sweets. And the sound is better, the bass thumping out during “Power Out”, and the poor glockenspiel gets hugely, amusingly abused. The band seem to just enjoy playing the older stuff far more, and even from the dizzy heights of the upper tier it looks like they are having a dangerous amount of fun, whereas some of the newer songs appear to be something of a chore. For example, “Month Of May” just peters out at the end, as though the band themselves couldn’t think of anything better to do2.

As you’d expect, the end comes with “Wake Up”, finishing the night off marvellously. Peaks and troughs then, but in the end, it seemed like everyone was happy. As we traipsed out with the other 17,000 people, I made a comment to the missus about how it’d been all downhill since “Funeral”. She looked out over the massed crowds and just said “Some downhill”.

I’d love to meet the band and ask them – “How do you feel knowing that everything you do now is compared to your first record? And that you know that you’ll never better it, or even come close?”. And I’d expect the same response that the journalist got from Joseph Heller, who when asked, “Why haven’t you written as good as Catch 22?”, simply replied “Who has?”. Truth is, Funeral was a once in a decade record; utterly entrancing, bringing you into a hugely emotional world, as capable as bringing tears to your eyes as making you jump around, hug everyone in sight, and go a little bit mental3.

So maybe I shouldn’t complain. They seem like a lovely bunch; a bit earnest, maybe, but fundamentally decent, and genuinely try to make a difference4. They’ve tried lots of interesting ways to release and promote their records and work damn hard to treat their fans with respect. They throw an enviable amount of energy into their live performances and notwithstanding the venue and some of the material, it was a good night out. Shouldn’t that be enough?

1 Though their albums have sold well over a million copies worldwide, which is pretty good going.

2 Funnily enough, I’ve picked up comments here and there that this song is not exactly a fan favourite.

3 Even as I type this, listening to “Power Out”, tears are welling up and my heart is thumping. Not many records can do that.

4 For every ticket they sell on tour, £1/$1/€1 goes to the charity Partners In Health. Good stuff.

MP3: The Suburbs by Arcade Fire

MP3: Neighborhood #2 (Laika) by The Arcade Fire

MP3: Keep The Car Running by Arcade Fire

Visit Amazon’s Arcade Fire store here, and if you don’t buy Funeral, you are insane.

Customers Who Bought This Also Liked

Back in the dark, dim mists of time (oh ok then, April), I mused away on some bad reviews Pitchfork had given two artists – Freelance Whales and The Kissaway Trail. The former had released one of my favourite records of the year, and the latter had piqued my curiosity thanks to a little (or rather quite long) tune named “SDP”. Which, I have been reliably informed, is not about David Owen’s lot.

So, fast forwarding half a year, I hadn’t really got round to listening much to The Kissaway Trail’s album that much. Stuff got in the way, you know. But I remembered how Pitchfork said that they were just like The Arcade Fire, only worse, and how I thought Arcade Fire’s new album was like “Funeral”, only worse. A little lightbulb went on in my head. Going back to “Sleep Mountain” might cure those Arcade Fire blues. And guess what? They did.

Because they aren’t just a cheap pale Scandinavian Ikea pine copy of Arcade Fire’s expensive mahogany Habitat coffee table. Not at all. There’s lots more going on under the surface, lots of little touches and details that Scandinavians seem to be excelling at. If anything, there’s more Mew to them than anything; and a hefty dose of fellow Scandis Aerial and Mixtapes and Cellmates. The album’s been keeping me company on my long commute for the best part of a week now, and is safely ensconsing itself into the nascent Albums Of 2010 list slowly forming in my head.

So, feeling not quite enraptured by Arcade Fire’s latest? Try The Kissaway Trail. It might be just what you’re after.

MP3: Beat Your Heartbeat by The Kissaway Trail

MP3: We Used To Wait by Arcade Fire

Amazon’s The Kissaway Trail Store

Amazon’s Arcade Fire Store

Hackney Arcade Fire

Bands are trying to get all sorts of things to get you to buy their records. Free 7″ singles, voucher codes to download additional content, or even putting cats in spacesuits on their cover. Cats in spacesuits rule. Arcade Fire have been a shining example of how the Internet can work in your favour, so it wasn’t surprising that they came up with a little plan to get UK fans to pre-order their new album (“The Suburbs“).

Their idea was to offer anyone who pre-ordered their album an opportunity to buy tickets to a special secret gig at London’s Hackney Empire next week. It’s a nice thought, if done right; you sell lots of copies of your new CD (well, a few thousand copies anyway) and you ensure that tickets to your super secret special gig only go to genuine fans rather than those nasty touts.

Problem is, the process wasn’t live. So, when you placed the order, there was no guarantee you’d actually be able to get the tickets. All you had was a statement that you’d get an email sent to you, from where you could then buy tickets. But in this day and age, and with the might of Universal Music behind you, surely it’d have been simple to set it up so that you could just buy two tickets when you did the pre-order? Sure, you’d need the usual safeguards of only one order per credit card/address etc, but wouldn’t that be much more elegant?

Instead, we’ve now got the situation where a bunch of people didn’t manage to get tickets and the tickets that did go on sale to the public – via the ever-unreliable Ticketmaster – sold out in a gnat’s crotchet. I suppose the cynical amongst you might say “Well, Arcade Fire probably don’t care about this, they’ve sold a whole bunch of CDs before it’s even released and sold out the Hackney Empire to boot”, but for once, I’m not being cynical.

Because this is a band who, more often than not, has done the right thing for the fans. This just looks like a major label trying to do something the indies manage far more deftly, and getting it a bit wrong. At least they’re trying, I suppose.

Me, I’ll be hunting around Scarlet Mist for mine.

Pre-Order “The Suburbs” here

MP3: The Suburbs by Arcade Fire

Can We Please Move On From The Month Of May

I can’t say it’s been a great month so far. We’ve had some properly crap stuff happen round here that has got me concentrating on anything other than listening to music. Plus, the music industry seems set upon going to war with music bloggers that threatens to stop this being a worthwhile exercise. The whole idea of music blogging, where someone can say “Hey, I’ve heard this song, here’s what I think about it, try it yourself” and help spread good music is rapidly turning into “Here’s the only track the record company want you to hear, this Internet’s things a lark, isn’t it?”. We’re just all becoming record company shills. This upsets me, partly because it’s a model that is doomed to failure (if you want to download pirated music, it’s so simple it’s not even worth explaining), and partly because it’s hurting the very people who are trying to promote your music for free.

A little example – I would love to write about a song on Band Of Horses new CD, but I can’t, because if I try and post it, I’ll get shut down (again). So there you go, Band Of Horses Record Label, you don’t get any free publicity. Sure, I might only get a few hundred readers a day (a couple of thousand on a big day), but if 100 people go out and buy a record because of something I’ve said, that’s $1000 for the record label. And if, out of those 100, 20 like it so much they go and see the band with a friend, that’s another $800. Throw in some merchandising, that’s, say, $2000 thanks to me talking about it. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not much, but multiply this out for all the 10,000 plus bloggers on the big aggregators, and that’s a pretty decent sum. And I am very, very small fry in relation to some of the big hitters on Hype Machine and Elbows.

Arcade Fire are probably the biggest band that became famous almost solely due to the blogging world, leading the way for all sorts of bands like Arctic Monkeys through to Vampire Weekend and *insert new trendy band clogging up Hype Machine here*. So it’s not a huge shock to see that, with a new single on the way, they’ve found an interesting new way of drawing attention to it without all that dodgy downloading stuff. Of course, the whole point of mp3’s is that you should be able to download it and listen to it on the Tube, out jogging, lying around in the park drinking cheap cider, or wherever you so choose. Still, it’s a nice idea; go and have fun playing with the little vinyl record. Ooh, takes me back. Right, sunny and warm, off to get turned an alarming shade of red.

A. The Suburbs

AA. Month of May

MP3: Wake Up by The Arcade Fire

Amazon’s Arcade Fire Store