Sounding Board

On The Scene At Primavera, Where Arcade Fire Played Two Days Early

Yesterday was the first full day of Primavera 2017, and as usual with this festival, there were a ton of great bands playing. But for a few hours, everything became a flurry of Arcade Fire, whose headlining set doesn’t come until tomorrow night. Festivalgoers noticed a small stage being constructed off to the side, speculation grew that it would be an Arcade Fire mini-set, and then a setlist started passing around Twitter. (This band is famous for its surprise shows, usually in Montreal.) And, sure enough, a few minutes after This Is Not This Heat (the semi-reunited This Heat) closed their set, I heard what I thought was some kind of 40 year old Italian disco music starting over my shoulder. Turns out, that was Arcade Fire.

The people who had caught on earlier were already packed in to see the band, but throughout their set people continued to catch wind of the mini-set; it wasn’t uncommon to see people sprinting towards the stage from across the festival. The band was on a simple stage, surrounded by fans on each side (Win Butler continually walked around the stage, performing to each half of the crowd in equal measure); there was a barricade there, so a whole other crowd developed outside of that. I watched from a ledge across the way from where the band were, and there was a whole other giant crowd gathered there. It was a weird setting: an impromptu show from a band that fills arenas, with like four different crowds having their own separate experience of it.

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Of course, the flurry of Arcade Fire extended well beyond Primavera yesterday afternoon: the set was timed so that it happened right around the same time that their new single “Everything Now” was officially released, along with the announcement of an album by the same name. After some time of vague hints and simmering speculation, the announcement of a new Arcade Fire marks one of the biggest releases of 2017 — so, of course, the enticing part of this set and (and of their forthcoming headlining set) was the prospect of seeing new songs.
That Italian disco bit, that was the band opening with “Everything Now.” When “Everything Now” first popped up online — via the records Arcade Fire were selling at Primavera ahead of the song’s official release — I saw someone on Twitter compare it to an uptempo version of ABBA’s “Chiquitita.” (Which, incidentally, Arcade Fire have sorta covered.) And that’s very accurate, even more so live, where the song sounds even dancier. The late Francis Bebey’s son Patrick, who plays flute on “Everything Now,” joined Arcade Fire onstage for the first time.

From there, the set was loaded up with Arcade Fire greatest hits, but it’s notable that, with Reflektor and what the new songs suggest so far, the band seems to be settling into the groovier, synth-drenched sound they began exploring on Everything Now’s predecessor. The set was still heavy on Reflektor material — the title track, “We Exist,” “Here Comes The Nighttime,” and “Afterlife” — and often skewed towards dancier songs from the older records: “Sprawl II,” obviously, and iterations of “Haiti” and “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” that have come to make much more sense in the context of new Arcade Fire due to their rhythmic focus.

The other new song is called “Creature Comfort,” and it initially seemed more minor than the Big Ideas-laden “Everything Now.” In a way, it’s almost reminiscent of earlier Arcade Fire, with the glockenspiel or xylophone or whatever and bleating vocals. But it rides on a persistent synth pulse and riff. It was also pretty infectious even though I couldn’t make out half the words Butler was singing. Based on these two, it’s hard to say whether Everything Now will be an extension of Reflektor or whether it’ll make that album feel like a transitional step towards a new, discrete phase of Arcade Fire.

It’s sorta weird to hear this stuff alongside older material, but the consistent element is Arcade Fire constantly reminding you that they’re one of the best live bands of their generation. People lost their shit to “Reflektor” and to “No Cars Go” and to “Sprawl II” equally. And then the whole thing culminated in a massive singalong to “Rebellion (Lies)” as Will Butler climbed up the rigging of the stage and pumped his fist in the air. All in all, it was a hell of a way to kick off Primavera — and chances are when tomorrow night comes (with more new songs?), it’ll be a hell of a way to close it, too.