Arcade Fire managed not to steal their own thunder with their proper Primavera headline set

Welcome to the 'Everything Now' era

There’s something neat about Primavera Sound 2017 wrapping up in the same way it began.

Among the many highlights: the emotive return of Bon Iver, Mogwai’s surprise run-through of their new album in full, and the faintly ludicrous sight of Solange and Slayer sharing a stage. But Arcade Fire have bookended it all.

On Thursday (June 1), on a specially erected 360-degree stage, with the backdrop of a spectacular blood orange sunset illuminating Barcelona’s jagged skyline, they played an unannounced performance timed to coincide with the release of new song ‘Everything Now’, and the announcement of their fifth album of the same name.

Primavera Sound and Arcade Fire know each other very well, the Canadians headlined as recently as 2014. “You’ve been good to us over the years,” acknowledges Win Butler. “This is where we wanted to start our tour.”

But if that 60-minute show on the opening night was the trailer, this was supposed to be the main feature: the whistles and bells unveiling of a new stage show, the first of a string of major gigs now scheduled on their ‘Infinite Content’ tour and Primavera’s closing night swan-song. And, of course, hopes are high. This is a band whose most recent tour production featured a man doubling as a human disco ball and a segment of the show where they would perform in the middle of the arena in an attempt to make the whole thing feel like Saturday Night Fever.

What’s immediately striking about Arcade Fire’s latest incarnation is, comparatively, how unstylised it all is. There’s no smears of face paint like the ‘Neon Bible’ years, or mariachi suits. It’s kind of casual – each member wears a branded “EN” bomber jacket. Win Butler sports a T-shirt with neon-orange trim, matching bright boots and a black hat.

And, unusually for AF, the first hour of their (almost two hour) performance is casual, too. It’s as if Thursday’s gig has taken the nervous sting out of the occasion. Opener ‘Wake Up’ is a solid start. ‘Haiti’, ‘Here Comes The Night’ and a rare outing for ‘Neon Bible’ follow. Even ‘No Cars Go’ feels a touch flat. It’s all good, but then Arcade Fire are rarely just good.

Interestingly, it’s not the oldest material that finally brings it to the boil. It’s ‘Reflektor’, half way through the night, and ‘Afterlife’. A pair of tracks that have deftly made the transition from fresh material to set-list classics. These are the moments that ignite a final 30-minute stretch that barely pauses – they don’t wait for applause, songs bleed into each other via a hailstorm of thumping drums and wailing feedback. It all peaks with ‘We Exist’ and the familiar, cacophonous closing pairing of ‘Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)’ and ‘Rebellion (Lies)’. A one-song encore of ‘Windowsill’ is a less bombastic, but moving way to finish.

So what of the ‘Everything Now’ iteration of Arcade Fire? Despite the title, they’re choosing to give a portion at a time. Two tracks are debuted tonight, the Abba-esque ‘Everything Now’ played second in the set and already met with a large crowd singalong, and ‘Creature Comforts’ played later – a mid-paced disco-jam – the influence of producer Thomas Bangalter (Daft Punk) clear, featuring Régine Chassagne playing a simple, catchy keytar riff.

It’s a whiff of the new album rather than a full unveiling. Same goes for the stage production. By AF’s standards it’s fairly modest. A transparent corridor-cum-video-screen sits behind the band – at one point Régine walks through it, and dances in silhouette. But in a way, it feels less like the spectacle we’ve come to know and more just like a band playing together again.

The point then is that like so many of Arcade Fire’s campaigns in the past, this one is still unraveling and revealing itself. At its most obvious, ‘Everything Now’ it a comment on the ceaseless cycle of news, commercialism and data exchange, controlled by big business, but perpetuated, sustained and accelerated by society’s appetite.

How Arcade Fire, one of the world’s biggest bands, make a comment on commodification while selling their own product is a intriguing move. Brave, perhaps. They’ve dared, at least, to tackle the theme (see their newly launched Twitter stream). In July, come the album, it’ll be clear if the concept truly stands up.

Photos: Festival / Sergio Albert