“Thank you, from the bottom of our heart, for coming out,” says Arcade Fire‘s Win Butler as the band arrive on stage at Dublin’s 3Arena on Tuesday night to kick off their world tour.
In the post-COVID era, it’s the kind of fan-pleasing platitude that gig goers have heard countless times over as bands return to arenas. But tonight it feels more like the palpable relief that there hasn’t been — not yet, at least — a wholesale cancellation or boycott of the Arcade Fire’s world tour.
Last weekend, an in-depth investigation by Pitchfork saw frontman Win Butler accused of sexual misconduct by four people. Butler claims that all contact with the accusers was consensual and denies the allegations; he has also been backed by his wife and bandmate, Regine Chassagne, who said that Butler “lost his way and he has found his way back. I love him and love the life we have created together.”
Some fans have said that the allegations have affected their relationship with the group and their music. Arcade Fire were the progressive, wholesome art-rock oddities, led by the loveable husband and wife duo of Win and Regine, who became the best band in the world for a mid-noughties period. To those fans, that image has been shattered.
Yet it’s not had too much effect on the show tonight — the arena is close to sold out. As reported by The Guardian, Butler even walked among his fans prior to the gig, and, when asked by their report whether he would address the allegations during the show, delivered an indifferent shrug. Some audience members, interviewed by an Irish Times journalist before the gig, were told about the allegations for the first time, but still opted to attend.
The band open with ‘Wake Up’, the rousing call-to-arms anthem that has become the biggest song of their career, and one that is usually reserved for the end of gigs. If this is a cynical power play to get the crowd on side from the get-go, it works, with the song igniting a singalong from a near-full capacity crowd.
The rest of the show, performance-wise, feels like business as usual. Arcade Fire still remain the impressive live prospect they were before last weekend, and debut a full arena-sized production complete with a stage in the round, futuristic lasers, a giant disco-ball and mind-warping visuals. However, stage banter is kept to a notable minimum. Butler, often an irreverent and wise-cracking presence on stage, tells the crowd at one point that he thanks them “for their kindness”, but tonight he leaves it to the music to do the talking.
It makes for a strange evening. The 70s stomp of ‘Everything Now’ allows the event to elevate into a celebration for the crowd at a time when the reality couldn’t be further away. Their support act, Feist, went ahead with her performance and made no mention of the scandal, but donated all of the profits to Women’s Aid Dublin. Arcade Fire may still remain an arena-filling presence, with a whole tour ahead of them, but tonight’s show feels entirely at odds with the current state of play.
As they exit, Butler delivers an impromptu rendition of Ben E.King’s ‘Stand By Me’. Whether his fans will do so remains to be seen.