Arcade Fire blazing their own trail

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IT’S a hot and balmy August night in 2005. The Ross Bandstand is packed to the rafters with excitable punters, while hundreds more jostle for a view on Princes Street. Seemingly the whole city is on the Franz Ferdinand party train, keen to see what the fuss is over a band who, in just a few short months, have been elevated to stratospheric heights.

While Canadian-American outfit Arcade Fire are merely the support for Alex Kapranos and co, it doesn’t escape the notice of many in attendance that their performance is worthy of a headline slot.

Fast forward to the present day and the seven-piece Montreal-based collective, led by husband and wife team Win Butler and Regine Chassagne, along with Will Butler, Richard Reed Parry, Tim Kingsbury, Jeremy Gara and Sarah Neufeld, have become the biggest indie band in the world.

Tonight, Arcade Fire makes its first Capital appearance for six years, performing to 8000 fans at an open-air spectacular on Edinburgh Castle’s Esplanade - and they can’t wait to return.

“They’re probably the best audience in the world for getting rained on, and acting like it’s the greatest thing that could happen,” smiles frontman Win Butler.

These days, Arcade Fire are used to playing massive gigs, but do they miss the intimacy of those early years playing to crowds of just a few hundred?

“When we started touring and we were opening for another band, part of the excitement was winning over the crowd,” explains bassist Kingsbury. “It’s a lot different now because a lot of people know us, so that’s a blessing.

“We just always try to put a lot of energy into the show. The crowd usually feeds off that,” he adds.

Earlier this year, when Arcade Fire played with U2, they happily took some pointers from the Irish supergroup.

“Part of it is just their catalogue... they have such an amazing list of songs people love,” says Kingsbury. “That goes a long way. They also really project while they’re playing.

“I think we do that, too,” he continues. “Right from when we started we were a little bit confrontational with the crowd. We try to engage with them... make sure there’s a connection there.”

The band, who play a wide-ranging mixture of instruments, came to prominence when they released debut album Funeral in 2004 to widespread critical acclaim.

2007’s Neon Bible was supposed to be the band’s ‘difficult second album’, but it certainly didn’t show, prompting Q Magazine to call them ‘the most exciting act on the earth’.

Arcade Fire released their eagerly anticipated third album, The Suburbs, last summer and it went straight to the top of the charts, becoming the band’s first UK number one.

It also saw them showered with awards, including Album Of The Year at the Grammys and both Best International Album and Best International Group at the BRIT Awards.

Despite such commercial and critical success, Arcade Fire insist they never intended to be huge.

“We definitely didn’t choose to be in the position we’re in, but I really think it’s come about in a pretty direct way, as close as something can get to people just responding to the music and it getting bigger,” says Butler. “I think it’s important that if you’re going to do it, do it for real.”

And while they are delighted with all the accolades coming their way, the singer insists that they don’t judge success by awards.

“We are really happy when we get nominated, but we definitely don’t get any of our self-worth as a band from awards,” he says. “The idea that you need to talk about how great you are in order to be great is a little foreign to me.”

Asked to put his finger on Arcade Fire’s rise to the top, Butler puts it down to hard work on stage. “I think our success as a band has always been tied to our live show,” he says. “The music we make has always been made with an audience in mind.

“We really need that conversation with our audience to make music in the first place,” he adds.

Arcade Fire, Edinburgh Castle Esplanade, Royal Mile, tonight, 7.30pm, £32.50–£37.50, 0131-225 9846