Fresh from their Glastonbury headline set, Arcade Fire have returned to Hyde Park (three years after they last played here) to finish off their European tour as part of the British Summer Time festival series with Barclaycard. Boasting an impressive array of support acts, Win Butler walks out onto the stage at 4:15 saying that ‘the time for past islands is past, now is the time for Future Islands’.
Future Islands have been slowly building up a following for a couple of years now with performances on some of the biggest American talk shows firmly cementing themselves as well and truly on the radar of music fans. As security guards asked fans in the queue for the gate if they were looking forward to seeing Arcade Fire, there were several replies of “no, we’re here to see Future Islands!” It is easy to see why. Samuel E. Herring chats easily with the crowd, his speaking voice remarkably smooth in comparison to the distinctive husk of his vocals. His dancing epitomises the phrase “dance as if nobody’s watching” with him happy to swing his hips from side to side. The band play a pleasing mix of old and new songs with ‘Before The Bridge’ showing that it’s a miracle that it has taken this long for Future Islands to become more well-known. It’s ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’ that so many people have turned up early for with Herring thanking people for leaving work early to join them in the warm afternoon London sunshine. It’s their penultimate song and it’s worth the wait, with Herring bopping from side to side and dancing along the runway as the crowd laps it up.
Unfortunately for Wild Beasts, the exuberance of Future Islands before them makes them seem rather dull. Whilst the impressive falsetto of some of the more accessible songs such as ‘Hooting and Howling’ brings some fun, a lot of their most recent music seems lost on everyone attending. Hayden Thorpe notes this, saying that he doesn’t want to be drawn into a dance battle with Samuel E. Herring but it might have been a more fun set if he had done. Thankfully, Jake Bugg following them is so much duller that I wonder if he was booked by Arcade Fire to make them look even better. Given that the teenager has been compared to Springsteen and hailed as the British songwriter of our times, the pathetic attempt at an Alex Turner impersonation which walks out is rather disappointing. Dressed in all black with sunglasses on, Bugg deigns to make no attempt to interact with his crowd, instead letting his nasal singing voice dictate the show. Large silent breaks in between songs considerately allow everyone to have time for a chat. However, ‘hits’ like ‘Lightning Bolt’ seem to have attracted some enjoyment so maybe I’m just missing something.
As the sun begins to set over Hyde Park, the mirrored panels come down from the top of the stage and soon enough the papier-mache bobbleheads come out to general amusement from the crowd, quickly followed by the band themselves. The bobbleheads start with ‘Rebellion (Lies)’ before Arcade Fire interrupt, beginning for real with ‘Normal Person’ from their most recent album. However ‘Rebellion (Lies)’ follows right after this, with Win declaring that it is very easy to fall in love with London on a day like today, and it is indicative of the pleasing mix between songs from ‘Reflektor’ and songs from previous albums that is to come. It is clear that Arcade Fire appreciate their ever growing fan base, dedicating ‘Crown of Love’ to everyone who bought ‘Funeral’ when it first came out.
The songs from ‘Reflektor’ sound much more dynamic live, with ‘Afterlife’ and ‘It’s Never Over’ in particular being much more impressive and fun. ‘Afterlife’ has a particular kind of poignancy that is lost on the album as the production gets rid of much of the rawness. Similarly, ‘It’s Never Over’ sees Regine running to the second stage behind the front half of the crowd to sing the call and response of ‘It’s Never Over’ with Win. However, it’s the older songs that really manage to capture the crowd, with ‘Sprawl II’ and ‘Rococo’ demonstrating the strength that ‘The Suburbs’ still has. ‘No Cars Go’ is equally powerful but you can hear distinctly how much the band’s sound has changed in 6 years when it is placed next to ‘Reflektor’, which has a much more dance orientated vibe to it.
As the evening draws to a close, the bobbleheads come back on stage to play a cover of ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ by The Rolling Stones putting the bongo players who have been on stage all evening to good use. Arcade Fire soon follow to play through ‘Here Comes The Night Time’, ‘Neighbourhood #3’ and finally ‘Wake Up’ which sees everyone belting out the chorus long after the lights on stage have dimmed. The carnival feel continues right to the very end as people dressed up as various animals run down the middle of the audience, popping streamers as they go. They may be coming to the end of their European tour, before heading to America to do another two months of dates, but Arcade Fire show no sign of exhaustion. Their enthusiasm is infectious and that’s what makes them one of the best bands touring at the moment.