Arcade Fire, Edinburgh Castle
Anthems for a suburban tomorrow
Monday 05 September 2011
"This is one of the most beautiful settings we've ever played," notes Win Butler, somewhat understatedly. "I thought the castle was in suburban Edinburgh. I thought it was at the mall or something."
It's at once the most perfect and the least appropriate venue for the UK return of Arcade Fire, one of only a couple of large-scale shows the Canadian outfit are playing this time out. The stunning Castle Esplanade setting, with banks of new seats fitted for last month's Edinburgh Military Tattoo facing a stage set against the torchlit battlements of the Castle, resonates with the epic richness of their music.
Since last year's third album, The Suburbs, though, Butler, his wife Régine Chassagne and their band have come to eulogise those malls and identical picket-fenced avenues, the blank, middle class dormitory spaces light years from the medieval monument serving as backdrop here. That Arcade Fire's nostalgia-infused set manages to introduce the grandeur of their location to the uninspiring neighbourhoods serving as their current muse is an exercise in quite unexpected synchronicity.
Before they're even onstage, the young to middle-aged crowd are conjuring childhood memories thanks to a crackling montage of classic teen movie trailers, from Over the Edge and The Warriors to the band's own, Spike Jonze-directed, Scenes from the Suburbs. "Ready to Start" is a subdued opener, perhaps chosen for its title as much as anything, but "Keep the Car Running" and "No Cars Go" quickly find an elegiac tone, with Butler suggesting the crowd "dance your ass off" to fight the autumnal chill.
The Caribbean tone of "Haiti" is accompanied by the voice of Chassagne, her glitter-fringed white puffball skirt blowing in the breeze, while the video backdrop reflects the band's aesthetic blend: pipe organs and glowing gothic candlesticks during "Intervention", and amber-sunlit pylons, highrises and freeway exit signs for "Suburban War", the latter melting into the familiar riff of "Wake Up". The devastatingly understated "The Suburbs" also ends on a segue, this time into the raw punk-pop of "Month of May", as the main set finishes on Chassagne's "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)", freshly beamed in from John Hughes' 1980s, the singer looking like Molly Ringwald and combining the deliveries of Kate Bush and Toyah.
As the curfew and firework-popping finale draw near there's just time for a two-song encore culminating in "Rebellion (Lies)", with Butler's brother William scaling the scaffold beating a drum, its reverberating echo that of a band who successfully stepped off the streets to make this most intimidating of venues their comfortable new home.
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