Arcade Fire, St John's, Smith Square

St John's, Smith Square

Before he formed the Arcade Fire with his wife Regine Chassagne, Win Butler was studying the Bible. So you'd think he would feel slightly odd about playing in a venue that was once a place of worship. Not a bit. When someone in the crowd tries to hush his chatting neighbours, Butler's reaction is engagingly caustic: "Jesus fucking Christ," he comments with a lopsided grin, "it's not a church."

That rumbustiousness carries into the band's set, primarily a showcase for their second album, Neon Bible, not released for another month. The crowd listen to each unfamiliar note reverently, displaying the forbearance of devoted fans who bought their tickets within minutes of them going on sale. Even so, there's no missing the electrifying jolt in the atmosphere whenever a track from Funeral, the debut album, is played. And yet, for all the thrilling vigour with which they're performed and greeted, old songs such as Rebellion (Lies) and Neighbourhood No 1 (Tunnels) struggle to stand out in a euphoric, frequently breathtaking show in which every song is played with equal assurance . Expanded for the night from a six- to an 11-piece band of multi-instrumentalists, the Arcade Fire produce a sound so explosive you fear the crackling speakers might rupture.

There are subtleties to the new songs that are suffocated by this frenzied approach. It's almost impossible to differentiate the instruments in Intervention, let alone the melodies they're playing, while Black Mirror's gloomy loveliness is trapped behind fierce revs and whirrs. But what's lost in complexity is gained in excitement: so propulsive are No Cars Go and Antichrist Television Blues, it's hard not to feel intoxicated.

Essentially, the Arcade Fire know that for a gig to be extraordinary, it needs fire and energy and most of all drama. They've always been celebrated, not just in their habit of swapping instruments but in the way they process off stage at the end of their shows.

They maintain both traditions tonight - and then do something unexpected, something that will live in the audience's memories for ever. They troop outside and play their final song, Wake Up, acoustically, on the steps leading up to the church and their massed voices shoot up past the rooftops into the sky. It's a blissful reminder of the tenderness at the heart of Arcade Fire's music, the quality above all that makes them so appealing.

· Ends tomorrow. Then touring.


Maddy Costa

The GuardianTramp

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