To all bar a punctual few (or those with sharp enough elbows), Arcade Fire are but eight tiny specks on a stage that, even with the grand fortress of the Castle behind it, commands unanimous attention. Though singer Win Butler expresses surprise at the Montreal outfit’s stately surrounds (“I thought the Castle would be a mall in the suburbs”), few would argue against the notion that their ascension to the dog-eared throne of rock royalty has been well-earned.
That said, not even a full house – and the fervour that implies – can deflect from the stiffness of tonight’s atmosphere, compounded by the chilly night air gripping those who might otherwise have been in finer fettle to get stuck into the choruses. No Cars Go begins to distract folk occupying themselves with the business of shivering off the dipping temperature, and before long a chorus of handclaps echo down the Royal Mile for the crisp chimes and grand organs of Neon Bible’s Intervention.
Month of May offers a flash of what garage rock sounds like when shorn of its naivety, but a flash it remains; Butler and his cohorts are a pastoral bunch at heart, and few songs resonate more than The Suburbs. Augmented by a rich, barstool piano melody and woozy strings, its ambiguous emotional centre gradually anesthetises the throng from the elements swirling overhead.
Sprawl II’s slo-mo disco template – a comparison helped in no small part by Regine Chassagne’s frosted Italo-disco pipes – would have been an appropriate end to proceedings as the small hours crept ever closer, but the chorus of whistles and terrace-like chanting brings the octet back on stage for Rebellion, which is belted out with the customary gusto.
Butler passes comment on the neon muscle guarding the esplanade’s perimeter (“this is the most secure gig we’ve ever done”), a scene that looks like a joyless acid house rave. It’d be hard to argue that tonight’s gig was anything less than exemplary, but the feeling remains that the Castle seems too stiff a place to host a band of such emotional intensity.