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Arcade Fire tour: ‘Just some humans doing our best’

When Arcade Fire singer Win Butler was accused of sexual misconduct, there were rumours of a ‘boycott’ for their tour. What really happened?

Reports of Arcade Fire’s death have been greatly exaggerated, if the ecstatic crowd in Glasgow’s Ovo Hydro is anything to go by.

It’s been just a little over a week since a series of accusations of sexual misconduct came out against frontman Win Butler. In the fall out, Arcade Fire’s UK tour has unexpectedly knocked Jerry Sadowitz off the top perch to become the most controversial live performances of the year.

Planned support act Feist has walked out after one gig, later writing of her impossible position: “To stay on tour would symbolise I was either defending or ignoring the harm caused by Win Butler and to leave would imply I was judge and jury… I’m imperfect and I will navigate this situation imperfectly, but what I’m sure of is the best way to take care of my band and crew and my family is to distance myself from this tour.” 

The consensus on music Twitter is that there’s no coming back from this; the band’s virtuous, social justice image is destroyed. Calls came quickly for the tour to be cancelled. Failing that, there’s gossip about boycotts.

As an outspoken feminist who also happens to love the band, I’ve been asked by at least a dozen people whether I plan to go. I, too, am imperfect. My imperfect decision is that I’ve paid my money and I’ll give them a chance. Like Feist, I hope for healing for everyone concerned.

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Allowing that you can’t see what isn’t there, the Hydro does not look like it’s been subjected to any sort of campaign of mass non-attendance. The queues for entry and beers are just as busy as normal; there are no protestors outside. Support act-less, a busy, buzzy venue’s being warmed up by a well-received DJ set.

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When the band arrive, they do so through a hastily created corridor, walking right through the middle of their people. It’s a move that they’ve pulled before, but in context it is a statement: an attempt at reconnection, a reminder of the band’s headliner-next-door ethos. Cameras raised, the fans lining the entrance path cheer in delight.

Reaching a secondary small stage in the middle of the venue, surrounded on all sides, the seven-piece group explodes into the anthemic Intervention, from 2007’s Neon Bible. “Who’s gonna throw the very first stone?” sings Butler.

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If anyone was waiting for the elephant in the room to be directly addressed, they will be disappointed. Still, I don’t think I’m mistaking the tinge of relief in Butler’s eye, mixed in with the usual rockstar joy at an audience in the palm of his hand, as he says: “It’s good to be here in Glasgow. We always have a great time with you.” Making their way from the secondary stage to the front of the room, the band are met with high-fives.

On the main stage, under a massive arch that variously pulses with rainbows, ululates with black-and-white stripes and replicates the eye from the cover the band’s latest album WE, the band deliver a set to rival their best. Which is really very good indeed. New tracks The Lightning I and II, Age of Anxiety I and WE (“This is the first time we’ve played this one, I’m nervous,” says Butler) prove their worth alongside staples Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out) and The Suburbs. Everything Now is welcomed with raucous, shouts and fists in the air.

Some inflatable arm-waving tube men join Arcade Fire in Glasgow. Photo: Laura Kelly
Some inflatable arm-waving tube men join Arcade Fire in Glasgow. Photo: Laura Kelly

“You know, we’re just some humans up here,” says Butler, introducing Rebellion (Lies), “doing our best. I’m sure you are too.” He finds a warm reception.

It’s a reminder that the world is not music Twitter. I’ve no way of knowing how many people will go home wondering… Do we not care enough about the women who’ve told their stories? Is the experience of being a rock star enough to turn anyone’s head and reveal their worst side? Does power corrupt? Can we separate the artist from the art? How can we believe women and abide by the desire to consider a man innocent until proven guilty? How can we hold powerful men to account, ideally in a more productive way than public shaming?

I can say I’m still wrestling with all of that.

If there’s any moment that hints at a moral tussle in the audience’s hearts, it comes in the overwhelming strength of the cheer when frontwoman – and Butler’s wife – Régine Chassagne takes centre stage to take over lead vocal duties on Haïti. Chassagne has publicly supported her husband – saying, “He has lost his way, and he has found his way back” – but it’s surely been painful to have his affairs blow up on the world stage this way.

Tonight, she is more radiant than she’s ever been. A spark of pure energy, she races through the crowd, her curls marking her passage to stand alone on the stage in the middle of the room, singing Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) back at the band on the main stage. The gap is charged, the tableau it forms symbolically complicated. Like so much else on this tour.

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