Under different circumstances, this would have been a trade fair. The light show, the second stage, the epic, the guests, the choral, the folkloric, the opulence, the songs anyway – Arcade Fire, still one of the biggest indie rock bands in the world, have been touring Europe since August and are doing it on September 29th 2022 also stop in Berlin. Despite all the superlatives, the two-hour concert could not become an unqualified triumph. The circumstances are anything but normal, they cannot and must not be ignored.
Shortly before the start of their WE European tour, “Pitchfork” published research with enormous implications: Arcade Fire singer Win Butler, this family type, this nice guy of indie rock, the advocate of our children’s generation, is said to have married several young people have found women guilty of at least abuse of power and sexual misconduct. Butler admitted chatting, sexting, video calls and meetings ensued, but insisted everything that happened was consensual. He was not proud of it, apologized, said he wanted to work on himself. His wife, fellow musician Régine Chassagne, also showed solidarity: Her husband had been in “dark places” at times, but she had known him for decades and knew that he was not a bad person. Feist ended her tour support prematurely, and the headlines didn’t help advance sales either, especially in such a large hall as the Mercedes Benz Arena and with ticket prices becoming ever more expensive. It doesn’t matter how serious the allegations are as an outsider: Arcade Fire’s clean image is at least scratched. Maybe even her inheritance, her estate.
Because this story hangs like a storm cloud over a concert like today’s not only for parts of the audience, but certainly also over the eight-piece live band, the first part of the evening feels like subdued euphoria with the handbrake on: as approachable as oneself Win Butler mingled with the people at the start of the tour in Dublin, today the band doesn’t move in from the backstage area, but makes its way through the audience to applause. It starts with “Age Of Anxiety I” from the current album and follows up with the hits “Ready To Start”, “No Cars Go” and the rarely played “Black Mirror”. In the middle of the hall there is a second stage, a pedestal on which a piano awaits Régine Chassagne above the neon sign “End Of The Empire”. At this point it gets unexpectedly cheesy, wanting and begging for redemption: her unfaithful husband fights his way through to her as they both sing “It’s Never Over”. Is this already a musical? Then Butler sings alone: ”My body is a cage that keeps me from dancing with the one I love”, almost as if the one who recently didn’t want to stage himself as a victim wanted to be staged here as a victim of himself. The poor man who couldn’t help himself, but wants to be different.
The light show really gets going with “Reflector”, and for this a multi-purpose hall like today’s is also a better choice than the open-air stages that Arcade Fire in Berlin last used in 2017. So far the impression has been dominant: Arcade Fire have to function, they are a (actually well deserved) band, a family, somehow, but also a company. It seems like they still can’t do much wrong as a live band, but not really right anymore either. With “The Lighting I & II” this dam seems to have been broken for the moment. Yes, this is a damn hit, “Rebellion (Lies)” always was, and from now on the show mutates into an actual spectacle. For “Here Comes The Nighttime” the inflatable giant figures known from the “Unconditional I (Lookout Kid)” video pile up for the first time, Chassagne’s gaze relaxes, on the LED screens we see laughter on the faces of the troupe, who suddenly Enlarged again: For “Haiti”, Arcade Fire are supported by the Mizik Rasin Band Boukman Eksperyans, who, like Chassagne, come from the country of the same name. Joining live since the departure of Win Butler’s brother Will, Paul Beaubrun, Dan Boeckner and Eric Heigle fit in well. Silly and irrelevant side note that one of them resembles Richard David Precht.
The party is ending – it’s not even really starting right now
It’s supposed to be a party from now on. One, like the outro after the last encore “Wake Up” as a colorful musical marching band intended to convey, goes deep into the night and never really ends. It seems rather unlikely that the ailing band would continue partying backstage themselves, despite what was actually a very good concert, because of their tilted image of others and perhaps also of themselves. No, the tour and the show were not under a lucky star (and by that we only mean the oversized Mercedes star under the roof of the hall to a limited extent). It still sparkled.
It is foreseeable that Arcade Fire will come out of the scandal unscathed than others: the fans sang and clapped along from the start, and at the end they went home with choruses of “Oh Oh Oh”. Didn’t feel as euphoric and lasting as before, but they did. And it’s that audience that can make a difference: when someone like Luke Mockridge fucks up, a lot of his fans don’t care. Bands like Arcade Fire mostly feed from a left, woken bubble. They tend to be more critical and sensitive than others when it comes to allegations like the ones at hand. If such people remain loudly criticized, their careers are in jeopardy. If they stay loud with the applause, it will remain cracked at most. The question of how many people still go to concerts by alleged perpetrators, as men like Butler are often called (and indeed are) from a feminist perspective, was answered that evening in Berlin: around 14,000 should be there in the Mercedes Benz, which was not sold out have been arena.