Arcade Fire, We and the grand reopening of Koko
Koko, one of London’s most significant live music venues, with a long history dating back to the 1900 holiday season, has finally reopened after overcoming hurdles including a fire (just before the completion of its renovation) and a global pandemic. Being selected as the inaugural act for this event is more than an honour – it’s a responsibility. This is the venue where Coldplay launched X&Y, Madonna made her UK live debut and the late AC/DC singer, Bon Scott, was last seen drinking before his passing.
Since it was turned into a modern venue by Oliver Bengough, in 2004, Koko has been a symbol of British rock in the noughties, staging memorable concerts, hosting the Club NME night and, for a year, being home to the iTunes festival. Indie rock darlings Arcade Fire are just the perfect choice; few bands from that era have managed to evolve and stay as internationally relevant.
Here to present their latest album, We, the five-piece (nine on tour) kick off the show – live-streamed via Amazon Music – with Age of Anxiety I, a lacklustre art-rock piano ballad with disco elements redeemed only by its finale and Régine Chassagne’s theatrical LED gloves, which project green beams from the fingertips as she sings “gotta get this spirit out of me, this anxiety that’s inside of me”.
Then, the magic happens. The unmistakable keys sequence of Ready to Start whips the crowd into a frenzy, initiating a succession of beloved songs including The Suburbs and Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels); this is the songwriting that makes Arcade Fire so unique, a formula that other bands tried to emulate, not very successfully. Addressing the Internet audience, Butler says: “F**k being alone […] after this is over, go outside and f***ing do something.” Later, on the subject of Tunnels, he reveals: “I recorded the original demo of this song over a copy of David Bowie’s greatest hits because I was too poor to buy fresh tapes.”
Generation A is one of their most political works, released during the 2020 presidential election, with lyrics encouraging people not to be patient and wait for the promise of a new generation to come, because it would be “too little, too late”. In another nod to politics, Butler brings up the Тory MP who was caught watching porn in the Commons.
A second streak of solid songs starts with My Body Is a Cage, the frontman singing a cappella, shrouded in fog, to great effect, and continues with Afterlife, Arcade Fire’s best composition since they delved into the world of dance-rock. The release of Reflektor in 2013 was a watershed moment for the band: the first impression was of a “cool” and vaguely disruptive new direction, but with a little bit of perspective that only time can give, it’s clear the group lost their raw, poetic yet powerful sound and traded it for pretentious pseudo-avant-garde music. With Everything Now, they seemed to become just a lazy, stereotypical pastiche of themselves.
Ten tracks into the show, we hear another new song, Age of Anxiety Il (Rabbit Hole), and it’s pretty swell. There’s something more grounded about the disco moments in We that’s certainly due to the expert touch of Nigel Godrich. It also features a fun middle-eight from Chassagne, who sings: “Nothing ever can replace it, when it’s gone you can still taste it, going on this trip together, rabbit hole goes on forever.” Creature Comfort feels neverending, and one actually begins to forget how good Arcade Fire are, but the iconic sound of Sprawl I (Mountains Beyond Mountains) quickly reminds us of it.
The encore begins with The Lightning, both part I and II. It’s something of a trademark for the band to break concepts into multiple songs – or maybe collate multiple songs under a concept umbrella – and We makes extensive use of this format. The rock vibe is back and lights turn the stage fog red as the bass line of Rebellion (Lies) begins. This is a wow moment, matched shortly after by the liberating collective chant of Wake Up. In between, Unconditional I (Lookout Kid) puts a smile on everyone’s faces with its sweet lyrics and uplifting melody.
A second encore, not broadcast over the Internet, sees the live debut of End of the Empire, a four-part epic that will be the centrepiece of the new album. It’s hard to judge it in this context, but expectations are high for the recorded version.
Koko has now officially reopened and, after this brilliant performance from Arcade Fire, we can’t wait to see more great concerts here in Camden, the beating heart of London’s music scene.
Filippo L’Astorina, the Editor
Photos: Filippo L’Astorina
Watch the video from The Lightning I, II here: