I live in Salford. I go to gigs. I write about the gigs. And other stuff...

Friday, May 06, 2005

The Arcade Fire, Manchester Academy, 4th May 2005

The most hotly anticipated gig of the year so far has been upgraded to the Academy from the Hop And Grape, a remarkable feat for a band that few people on this side of the Atlantic had heard of before the start of the year.

First up is Final Fantasy, AKA Owen Pallett, an unassuming young Canadian playing his first gig outside of North America (as Final Fantasy at least: he's also a member of The Hidden Cameras) and playing to a larger crowd than he is accustomed to.

Armed only with a violin, he gradually builds a backing track by playing individual phrases and looping them to create the effect of a string quartet backing him to which he then sings and plays along. It sounds amazing as the loops build and build with Pallett plucking, scraping and hammering at his instrument with great skill to create surprisingly rich and complex textures. The songs are pretty good too and just when I'm starting to think he's got a bit of a Joanna Newsom thing going on he goes and plays an excellent cover of Newsom's "Peach, Plum, Pear". He even rocks out a bit towards the end, barking into his violin pick-up to weave his voice into the loop. It's an enthralling performance and the crowd are very appreciative.

The Arcade Fire don't disappoint. From the opening "Wake Up" through to the beautiful closing rendition of "In The Backseat" they thrill the crowd with a performance of power, precision, energy, stagediving and robotic dancing. "Wake Up" and "Neighbourhood #2 (Laika)" get things off to an exhilirating start with geeky multi-instrumentalist Richard Parry beating shit out of anything that gets in his way in the name of percussion during the latter. Instruments are swapped between (and during) songs as the band keep up the momentum, making their way through their Funeral album and adding a couple of cuts from their earlier EP. Regine Chassagne in particular seems to be able to turn her hand to anything, playing keyboards and accordian, providing excellent backing and lead vocals and even getting behind the drumkit for a couple of numbers towards the end.

They reach full throttle with "Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)" followed by "Rebellion(Lies)" during which the stage is positively swimming with energy. There is an intensity in these songs that is only hinted at on Funeral; when Win Butler sings "sleeping is giving in" on "Rebellion" you know he's talking the truth. It eventually gets too much for him on stage and he dives headfirst into the transfixed throng in front of him. When he's returned too quickly for his own liking, he does it again.

The encore brings an excellent cover of Talking Heads' "This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)" with Chassagne on steel drums this time, and ends with "In The Backseat" during which she seems close to breaking. Butler exits stage front again, this time clutching a bass guitar. The crowd don't give him back this time and that's the last I see of him. When the rest of the band leave the stage the stunned audience is left singing the final song's refrain over and over and over.

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