over the past few years, I've seen Arcade Fire in a small church, and in a packed Hackney Empire, and now suddenly they're bounding onstage at the O2 Arena as if born to the role.
Their ascension has been extraordinarily rapid, and is all the more surprising for the peculiarity of their music, which incorporates a bewildering panoply of strings and things. The significant thing, though, is that they don't seem at all out of place here. As an octet, they're one of the few bands not physically dwarfed by a stage this size and the same applies to their sound.
The O2, then, suits them well: here, their customary on-stage energy seems more natural, like a herd of animals finally released into the wild to gambol free again. The show bounded out of the blocks with "Ready To Start", the infectious, lolloping boogie from The Suburbs. They keep the momentum building with "Keep The Car Running", conjuring a whirligig noise from mandolin, hurdy-gurdy, violins and frantically hammered piano, and belting out the choruses with a cult-like fervour. While most rock bands bring a gang mentality to music, there's more of a family feeling about Arcade Fire, and like big families, the members have to be more extroverted to get noticed.
Not that frontman Win Butler need worry. Tall and thin and wielding the intellectual pop charisma of a David Byrne, he commands the stage from the start, establishing an easy rapport with approving comments about the snowy weather and our demonstrating students.
The set is drawn mostly from The Suburbs and Funeral albums, peppered with a few choice cuts from Neon Bible, such as the stirring "No Cars Go". But there's barely a track here that doesn't sound like a call to arms: as anthems of alienation go, these are as uplifting as they come. "Here's a song about growing up in Houston, Texas," says Butler, introducing "The Suburbs" itself, "but it might as well be London, England – we got the same shit everywhere now."
It's this acknowledgement of our collective isolation which may be what attracts so many to Arcade Fire. Which is why it's so ironic to find this most cultish and individual-sounding of groups selling out the O2 Arena; and why it's so heartening that they manage to shrink the cavernous space to more human size, and connect with this huge audience as if talking to each of us alone.