First review: Arcade Fire at Hyde Park

Dan Frost finds Montreal's shooting stars burning bright in the suburbs of the city

First review: Arcade Fire at Hyde Park

Photographer: Sasha Ongdan frost on 03 July 2011

On paper at least, Arcade Fire are perhaps the least likely headliner to be taking to Hyde Park's enormous stage during this intense two week period of super gigs and city festivals.

Where the Kings Of Leon, Bon Jovi, The Killers et al have burgeoning back catalogues of big, sing-along chart toppers, pretty much tailor-made for this kind of show, Arcade Fire (9/10) favour a more unpredictable, cerebral and noticeably less commercial brand of rock that often eschews the idea of a chorus altogether. Even next to The Chemical Brothers (headlining Saturday night at the Wireless Festival), they have a paucity of 'hits' in the traditional sense.

Thankfully, this doesn't seem to matter much tonight, and only serves to heighten the achievement of what is a climatic, borderline triumphant, show. In a set that feels perfectly balanced between new material from recent album ‘The Suburbs’ and stand-out tracks from previous albums ‘Funeral’ and ‘Neon Bible’, singer Win Butler and the band take the 60,000-strong crowd on a spirit-soaring journey that glides from dark and punchy to joyous and anthemic without the slightest jar or misstep. Like the best of their albums, it is revelatory, intense and compelling to the max.

It is the biggest London show yet for the Montreal seven piece, and the crowd are with them every step of the way. After opener ‘Ready To Start’, a pacey highlight of the newer album, the band jump to ‘Wake Up’, a ‘Funeral’ classic that boasts one of the most ridiculously euphoric choruses you're ever likely to hear. It feels a little early in the set for this, but offers the crowd an early singing opportunity that loosens the mood and creates that all-important performer/audience connection.

Indeed, this is one of the most important ingredients in the show's success, alongside the band's famed performance style, which is, without overstatement, thrilling from start to finish. They might not have a ‘Mr Brightside’ or ‘Sex On Fire’ to fall back on, but the intensity with which every band member hits every note - banging, bowing and strumming like their lives depend on it - makes many of their contemporaries look like dullards going through the motions.

There's a similar (albeit dimmer) spark to the performance of main support act Mumford & Sons (8/10), whose rich hillbilly-indie anthems have been thoroughly embraced by the British public over the past year or so. The longevity of this relationship will likely be determined by the band's next album, but for the time being they are very much the darlings of the UK music scene - and it shows here, the crowd responding in kind to a warm and charming performance.

Earlier support Beirut (6/10) have a far harder time winning over the crowd, perhaps because their impressive back catalogue can, to fresh ears in the wrong setting, quickly melt into groaning blandness where the lack of strong melodies is sorely felt. There are a few great moments but it too often sounds like a hungover Guy Garvey improvising over a similarly partied-out French gypsy folk band.

Even then, it's a step up from previous act The Vaccines. One of the most over-hyped bands of the year, it's depressingly obvious they're not yet ready to be playing such big stages. They have some workable melodies but these don't make up for half-formed songs and a performance that's about as charismatic as Andy Murray having a snooze.

One hopes The Vaccines (5/10) stuck around to learn some lessons from Arcade Fire. Montreal's finest might not be an obvious fit for a big outdoor rock show - where huge crowd sing-a-longs are the lifeblood and musical intricacies are invariably lost in the soupy morass of outdoor amplification - but tonight's performance is incontrovertible evidence that it can work incredibly well, and that huge global success trades in more than just number one singles and catchy tunes.

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