Re-invention and alter egos. Music’s full of them!
David Bowie became Ziggy Stardust, The Beatles became Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band and even Snoop Dogg became Snoop Lion. But why do artists do it?
It all comes down to the age old problem bands have always faced, how do you re-invent yourself without alienating your fan base? The Strokes have been criticised for always sounding like The Strokes, yet others like Bob Dylan found backlashes against changing too fast. Pops great chameleons like Madonna or Bowie somehow seem to find a way to be one step ahead but never so far away from their previous work that they alienate their own crowd.
So why the alter egos? A safety net? A fall back against criticism? A way to say yes this is my record but it wont necessarily sound like me? Arcade Fire’s re-invention as The Reflektors is fascinating, it almost comes across as a way of truly expressing themselves and a way of finding a creative freedom without having to be the Arcade Fire we’re used to. The records had a mixed reaction, but live is another world, so on there first ever UK shows how would The Reflektors work out?
THE REFLEKTORS, Live @ The Roundhouse
This was never going to be an ordinary gig. An intimate setting for a band who are on top of the world right now. A packed out Roundhouse made up almost entirely of complete Arcade Fire purists, without any effort there was bound to be an air of expectance to this performance. So when so much effort has been put in how could it be anything but spectacular?
Emails were sent out to all attendees requesting that costumes or formal attire were mandatory (ticket master later backtracked on The Reflektors request by pointing it out it wasn’t entirely mandatory, leave the fun destroying to the fat cats and businessmen), the entranceway contained a mariachi band playing pop hits (mainly Don’t You Want Me by The Human League), the walls were lined with silver streamers and masks and face painting were being handed out left right and centre. If this was a gimmick, it was a very effective one lapped up by the audience. Most people had put the effort in, suits left, right and centre. Glimmering dresses and fairy lights. Even one man dressed not only as an elephant but an elephant in a bow tie! It created a stunning atmosphere and the Roundhouse was buzzing even before the band took to the stage.
Opening with the title track and lead single Reflektor was a no-brainer. It’s disco rhythm, ensured the place would be dancing and bouncing from the very first bar. Win appeared in a shimmering hood, there were 2 bongo players in a 10 strong musical ensemble, and they played it with an incredible energy throughout, frankly the only thing missing was a cameo appearance from David Bowie himself. It doesn’t take a genius to spot the influence of Bowie on the new Arcade Fire direction, even the alter ego is perhaps most reminiscent of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders from Mars.
From the start this is very much a Reflektors gig, they throw in three old Arcade Fire songs but even Power Out is given The Reflektors treatment opening with a bongo solo that certainly wasn’t on Funeral! They throw in Haiti & Sprawl II (Mountain Beyond Mountains) but a Clash cover aside everything else is material from the new album. I’m sure some had some complaints but you wouldn’t go and see Ziggy Stardust and expect to hear Space Oddity! This was an evening to revel in the glory of this most ambitious of fourth albums, and it gave many of the tracks a platform to sing in ways the recorded versions perhaps don’t.
Normal Person arrived with a seemingly improvised monologue and continued at a ferocious pace, each of the punky instrumental breakdowns greeted with a mass bouncing, sprawling, dance from the crowd, this is an outsider anthem and a stand out amongst an evening of genius moments. Joan of Arc is as fitting a tribute to the iconic folk heroine as you’re likely to hear, Flashbulb Eyes rails against the media and there’s a hint of irony in the amount of people taking photos during it, and Afterlife is every bit as beautiful as the recorded version.
On Sprawl II, Win notes they used to have to play it using sequencers but now have enough people they can do it live, as geeky an intro to a song as you’re likely to hear, but ones that’s quite telling. This is a band growing artistically and sonically as it goes, and the playing is notably more energetic and free than there already infamous previous live shows. Everything about this set shows a band hitting their straps and getting better and better it’s a frightening prospect for everyone else making music!
So after all the shimmering confetti has been swept away and the terrifying plastic heads have moved on you’re left with one thrilling conclusion. As good as Arcade Fire were The Reflektors might just be even better!