There is no support band. Support comes in the form of a video montage projected on various white-screen throughout the venue. It is split up into two rooms, one with a stage and standing room only, and a smaller room filled with dilapidated faux-leather couches and arms-chairs, presumably sourced from a local Trödelmarkt. In this room there is also a couple of German pseudo-intellectual comics performing selected readings, predominantly on the theme of alcohol, to an underwhelmed audience. I move into the room with the stage. The Magnet club in Berlin is not large, but the mass of bodies makes it feel more cramped than I recalled from previous visits. It’s cold outside, and I grumble about probably catching a cold when I step back into the freezing Berlin winter again, which had yet to begin turning to spring.
Leadbelly can be heard through the speakers, floating over the sea of heads. There seem to be unusually few hipsters here tonight. Mainly music geeks, US and Canadian expats, a few art-student types. A bizarre blend. Expectant, yet without knowing what to expect. This is the first time that The Arcade Fire have played in Germany, indeed this is their first tour on this continent. Win Butler arrives and duly announces ‘Hi, we’re called the Arcade Fire and we’re from Montréal, Canada’. He looks like a perverted undertaker, but somehow he exudes an air that says he really doesn’t care what anyone thinks he looks like. This could be promising. The band look a bit disorganised and from the beginning don’t have anything like enough space on the tiny stage, in more ways than one. Who is that massive guy with the ginger hair?
The first song strikes up. A new sound. Ears prick up. This is not the noise that thousands of other guitar bands make on stages in tiny, cramped clubs in every city across the world every night. There is pure energy on stage, the voices, all singing, screaming in perfect harmony. Win’s jerky movements instil a wonderful unease and add to the overall effect. Within seconds the crowd belong to the band. An entire audience following every crescendo, wallowing in every quite phrase. The undertaker has become the priest.
The band swap between instruments with ease, they have the feeling of one collective, rather than several individuals. This is reflected in the fact that all members of the band provide vocals for songs like “Wake Up” even if they don’t have microphones in front of them. The Arcade Fire manage to fuse something beautiful and fragile with something carnal and raw. The spectacle of Richard Parry wearing a bright red crash helmet and drumming on the side of the speaker with all the speed and force he can muster, whilst Will Butler keeps the same beat on said helmet is a surreal spectacle to behold. Régine plays the accordion coquettishly (no mean feat in itself) and violinist Sarah Neufeld exudes boundless sexual energy whilst playing the violin as if competing with Old Nick himself.
It is unfortunate, therefore, that the band are not able to maintain the rousing energy of the first handful of tracks throughout the set, and occasionally a few of the songs lack some of the manic quality that were are abundance in the renditions “Tunnels” or “Rebellion (Lies)”. Songs like “Haiti” are nice enough, but somehow seems out of place juxtaposed to the louder and faster songs of the Arcade Fire performance repertoire, it does not manage to fit as well as it does on the album. This should not detract however, from the fact that this band is truly spellbinding live, in a small venue and the final song “In the Backseat” is a powerful and cathatrtic closing number, whose final outro gradually spreads itself over the audience like a warm, comfortable blanket. One can not help but feel, that with a live set like that, this band will not be confined to small, obscure clubs for very long.
I step out of the club, and back into the cold.
Neighborhood #2 (Laïka)
No Cars Go
Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles)
Crown Of Love
Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
In The Backseat
Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
Setlist courtesy of “Us Kids Know”