I have seen Arcade Fire in a small church and in a packed Hackney Empire. Now they are bounding onstage at the O2 Arena as if born to the role. Their ascent has been rapid and has been all the more surprising given the peculiarity of their music, a bewildering panoply of strings and things. Significantly, they do not seem out of place here. As an octet, they are not dwarfed by a stage this size. The same applies to their sound.
At the O2, their stage energy seems natural. They bound out of the blocks with the infectious, lolloping boogie of "Ready to Start" and keep the momentum building with "Keep the Car Running", conjuring whirligig noise from mandolin, hurdy-gurdy, violins and frantically hammered piano, belting out the choruses with cult-like fervour. Most rock bands bring a gang mentality to music; there is more of a family feeling about Arcade Fire. But as in big families, individuals have to be extroverted to get noticed.
Tall and thin, with the intellectual charisma of a David Byrne, frontman Win Butler commands the stage, establishing an easy rapport with comments about the snowy weather and our demonstrating students.
The set is drawn mostly from The Suburbs and Funeral, with a few choice cuts from Neon Bible, such as the stirring "No Cars Go". There is barely a track that doesn't sound like a call to arms. "Here's a song about growing up in Houston, Texas," says Butler, introducing "The Suburbs", "but it might as well be London, England – we got the same shit everywhere now."
This acknowledgement of our collective isolation may be what attracts so many to Arcade Fire, so it is ironic to find this most individual-sounding of groups selling out the O2. It is heartening, then, that they manage to shrink the cavernous space to a more human size.