The first of the Marlay Park summer shows kick off with the rather unusual pairing of Arcade Fire and Pixies. The chamber-pop grandness of Arcade Fire is a world away from the alt-rock rawness of Pixies, and so there seems to be two divisions of fans among the crowd; those for Pixies and those for Arcade Fire. Not that this led to any trouble or violence of course; it merely creates an atmosphere where some fans appear somewhat uninterested in half the show.
Pixies bring their manic alt-rock to the stage with plenty of gusto and hit home from the off with several classic tunes. ‘Wave Of Mutilation’, catchy and relatively calm for a Pixies track, draws the crowd in early on, and a well balanced set plucking tunes from every era of the band’s career keep them there for the duration. On ‘Hey’, the quiet verse/loud chorus formula that is so distinctive on record becomes even more evident and powerful in the live setting. ‘Bagboy’, with its electronic bass brings something a little different to the show, and Francis’ wild yelps ensure that the band are unlikely lose their distinctive sound. If only the entirety of their new “album” could be this good.
‘Caribou’ showcases all that is good about Pixies, with its brilliance lying in the dramatic dynamic changes. Francis’ voice veers from a sweet falsetto call to a rugged, raspy shout. Breaking out the acoustic guitar and strumming two chords aimlessly for a few minutes, he finally launches into ‘Ed Is Dead’, thus kickstarting the best part of their set. ‘Nimrod’s Son’ accelerates with manic pace but the acoustic presence manages to keep things grounded. The delightfully catchy riffs of ‘Here Comes Your Man’ stand out as a show highlight, while the glorious minimalist riff of ‘Where Is My Mind?’ pierces through the late afternoon heat beautifully. Elsewhere, ‘La La Love You’ proves a slowed down, lazy, sing-a-long masterstroke and the ferocity of ‘Tame’ wake the crowd out of its chill mood. Finally, just as the opening notes of ‘Debaser’ rings out, Francis stops, announces that his guitar is ‘dead’ and the band left the stage. Somewhat confused, the crowd lingered uncertainly, believing that an encore was sure to follow but, alas, it was not to be. Whether it was the stage crew shooing the band off or if it was just Francis pulling a hissy fit, Pixies’ set is brought to an unsatisfying and inglorious conclusion.
Headliners Arcade Fire’s early show went some way to dispelling the lingering the frustration of Pixies’ abrupt departure, with the squealing lead riff and bold lyrics of ‘Normal Person’ injecting some liveliness and energy into proceedings early on. ‘Rebellion (Lies)’ keeps up this vibrancy and gives cause for an early sing-a-long. After this bright start, though, the band slow up just a little bit, with ‘Rococo’ and ‘The Suburbs’ lacking power, ultimately feeling a bit limp. The tracks’ dreamy atmospheres would have been ideally suited for later on in the show, just as the crowd grew a bit weary. As it was they inadvertently kill the mood a bit, and whilst the outro of ‘The Suburbs’ is sweetly sung and quite beautiful, it takes all the sting out of the aggressive track that follows, ‘Ready To Start’.
The electronic touch that features heavily on the band’s most recent album Reflektor brings even more versatility to an already impressive back catalogue, and the new tracks stand out tonight. ‘We Exist’ marked the end of early inconsistencies, and rediscover the excitement that temporarily fades with its strong beats and lush instrumentation. If the band border close to brilliance up to this point, ‘Intervention’ is the moment where they find it. Again, the eclectic instrumentation iswonderful, the change from the electro of ‘We Exist’ to the organ and acosutic guitar of ‘Intervention’ is glorious. The little xylophone notes, and the fantastic, robust chorus ensure that the track is as dramtic and intense as possible. The delightfully gentle rendition of ‘(Antichrist Television Blues)’ serve as a delicate interlude before ‘No Cars Go’ spring into action before momentum slows too much. ‘Reflektor’ serves as the peak of the main set, with the gig seeming to lead to this climax. The behemothic tune manages to captivate for the whole of its seven minute duration, shifting from loud fast parts to quieter slower ones with ease. Ridiculously catchy riffs flit between instruments and the combination of Butler’s crisp voice and Chassagne’s airy falsetto culminate in creating a wondrous performance. ‘Sprawl (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’ – featuring Chassagne on vocals and alluring synth undercurrents – closes the main set in a sweetly, peaceful manner.
The group greet us with a bewildering spectacle before they reappear, as a giant, paper-mache Pope rips up a picture of Miley Cyrus as Sinead O’Connor’s ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ plays before a mirror man shouts Irish at us. All rather confusing, but ‘Here Comes The Night’ makes up for it all, with the tune playing just as darkness falls. The colossal production produces an impressive light show and a wonderful confetti explosion to accompany the dancey track, with Arcade Fire again proving again that they can hold your attention long past the usual three-minute mark. The vibrant atmosphere the tune creates feeds the mind-blowing finale that is ‘Wake Up’. The tune is almost insultingly simple, featuring just a handful of chords, a simple beat and a lyricless chorus, yet the song is truly something special. There is something magical about screaming along with this lung-belting indie classic, and the two factions of fans that were evident during the Pixies set are united by the wordless call of this brilliant band. It may have taken a little bit of time for Arcade Fire to hit their stride, but once they do, there was no stopping the group from putting on a belter of a show. Jonathan Klein