Experiencing life’s juxtapositions, with Arcade Fire at London’s O2 Arena, on 1 December 2010.
My unplanned trip to London recently was a beautiful brief journey of understanding life’s juxtapositions. I visited Ai Wei Wei’s famed “Sunflower Seeds” exhibition at the Tate Modern Art Museum, watched Achitpong Weerasathekul’s “Uncle Boonmee That Can Recall His Past”, and concluded my trip with watching my favourite band, the Arcade Fire performing in front of 17,000 fans in the O2 Arena.
From Ai Wei Wei’s masterpiece that questions the worth and meaning of individuality against the mass normative, to Achitpong’s thought-provoking cinematic piece that examines the intense relations of the present and past, the Arcade Fire, are also “music scholars” where life’s juxtapositions are concerned.
Arcade Fire started their career as indie darlings hailing from Montreal, Canada. The band surprised critics with their dark haunting debut, “The Funeral” in 2004, and has since then produced cohesively conceptualised albums. “The Funeral” was a piece of art that found its roots in the band members’ grief over their lost ones. The album was bursting with melancholic aesthetics; there is an unnerving sense of hope and anxiety in every single mourn of loss, delivered by orchestral and atmospheric melody throughout the album.
Then, “Neon Bible” arrived, intriguing fans and critics alike. The album brought not only commercial success to the band, but also mainstreamed the band’s indie reputation. Unlike the personalised theme of grief and loss in “The Funeral”, the second album was dedicated to the apocalyptic world, be it war conflicts or obsession with modernity. Meanwhile, their latest album, “The Suburbs”, is a personal revisit of the band members’ childhoods. The album tells stories about intimate longings for the simplicity of the past (perhaps as simple as waiting for mail to arrive, as in “We Used to Wait”), as opposed to the modern fast-paced lifestyle.
The Arcade Fire also formed a meaningful relation with Partners in Health (PIH), a non-governmental organization that has over the years, advocated passionately for global health equity especially in providing medical treatments and medicines for AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Their work in Haiti has caught the interest of Win Butler and Regine Chassagne, the husband and wife duo that also front the band. From the start, the band’s special interest in what happened in Haiti was translated into a melodious song in their debut album. The song was aptly sung by Regine, who was originally from Haiti. Regine’s appeal for hope and solidarity in the song “Haiti” was demonstrated by these powerful lyrics:
Tous les morts-nes soon forment une armee,
Soon we will reclaim the earth.
All the tears and all the bodies,
Bring about our second birth.
As a result of their new dedication to end structural violence in Haiti, the band made a commitment to donate 1 Euro, GBP or US Dollar from every ticket sold for their concert to PIH. As Win Butler announced during the concert, proceeds from their tour that has so far amounted to GBP30,000, will be donated to PIH in order to support their provision of service in Haiti. The intention might seemed “Bono-esque” to some, but perhaps the strategy to provide direct funding to credible NGOs in order to support their social intervention, as opposed to the mere charitable act of giving money is the much needed departure from the PR-centric charitable acts by celebrities nowadays.
The Arcade Fire consist of seven multi-instrumentalist members and that night they had 17,000 fans as their loyal choir. We sang the chorus to every song, no matter how cryptic the lyrics were. The band on the other hand, never ceased to win our excited cheers. Not only were they energetic, passionate, and much to our delight, exchanged instruments with one another throughout the show; colourful lights and objects such as candles, gates, letters, fire, or road scenery became cinematic symbolism on the digital slides that served as the backdrop to the stage. The artistic setting definitely enhanced our experience that night. The stage setting was musically and aesthetically significant, like a noir musical of the movie Blade Runner.
The anthemic “Ready to Start” kicked off the concert, and definitely got the whole audience on their feet. Win Butler, who apparently was annoyed that people sit at his concert, called everyone to stand and express ourselves, although we really did not need anymore convincing. The frontman was also a man of few words. He repeated thank yous throughout the concert, and made intense speeches about the Haiti Project or some deadpan reference to the winter snow. Other than that, the brilliant performance of the band spoke more for the charisma of their music than the frontman himself. The encore song, “Wake Up” was as I glorious as I expected it to be, although I did secretly hope that David Bowie would jump onto the stage and duet with Win as he did during the Fashion Rock event in 2005. Nevertheless, we stood up, paying homage to the song, with the sad realisation that the musical journey had reached its end.
I guess the solidarity of 17,000 fans that night with the band humbled Win Butler so much, that after the encore, he postulated on the stage in front of thousands of his fans repeating his thank yous. I would say thank you to him and his “black parade” (as a music critic once called them). They delivered a solid performance, especially for the rendition of my personal favourites such as “No Cars Go”, “Intervention”, “Wake Up” and “Rebellion”.
“The Suburbs” is nominated for the Album of The Year for the Grammy Awards. They may be defeated by Lady Gaga, Katy Perry or Eminem. But who knows, Arcade Fire might have the last laugh. That would be another interesting juxtapostion.
Shazeera is currently in the icy land of York, United Kingdom. Despite the heavy snow, she hoped to catch more gigs with or without a giant mafla.