Choosing wisely, MATT PICKERING made a beeline towards Arcade Fire at Auckland’s Big Day Out, 2008.

WIN BUTLER: “You should get the Queen off your money!!” The lead singer of Canadian band Arcade Fire perhaps felt an affiliation with his Kiwi audience which, like Canada, is beginning to question its ties to the monarchy. Apparently he’s used to wearing his political opinion on his sleeve, and he’s a big Obama fan too.

Arcade Fire was the band I came to see here at the Big Day Out so I’ll focus on them. Due to a time-tabling mix-up we had to miss Battles in favour of Arcade Fire, (instead of Battles, it was Tom Morello playing acoustic which was truly awful) but that’s the way it goes. Before Arcade Fire start, the sight of several keyboards and synthesizers, guitars and mega-phones, plus a huge pipe-organ suspended from the scaffolding gives some indication of the novelty that their live show will bring. It’s also somewhat audacious to bring the pipe-organ on tour – for one: it would be a logistical nightmare to transport such an instrument, and two: they can only play venues which can fit the damn thing. Forget the Bathhouse, Bodega, this ten piece is heading straight for arena! Led by the husband and wife team of lead singer Win Butler and multi-instrumentalist Régine Chassagne, the band kick into ‘Wake Up’, which sounds like a leap of faith, a march into battle. The song fully embodies the band’s collective philosophy. Standing in a row across the front of the stage, each member of the band shouts at the top of their lungs, the mood rising and falling as a group. Their sound is one of collaboration so forget guitar or drum solos. Each musician seems happy to sit back in the mix in favour of the overall sound.

The band manages to rise above the novelty factor it creates through its having so many instruments and multi-instrumentalists. Within the collective, Richard Parry starts on marching drum and tambourine, then cycles through accordion, bass, guitar, then back to drum. Likewise Régine Chassagne plays violin, the wind up hurdy-gurdy, drums, then the pipe-organ, sending a delicious low vibration out through the crowd. Can you imagine the absolute joy of playing such an instrument? I might have to sneak into the Wellington Cathedral while no one’s around.

The contagious and unbridled energy of the group seems to be concentrated in keyboard crazyman William Butler, younger brother of Win. He lives up to his Wikipedia entry, spontaneously scaling the scaffolding aside the stage with drum in tow, whacking it with intense vigour, embracing the moment. That we couldn’t hear the drum didn’t matter, but what the action lacked in sound totally made up in commitment and spectacle. When he was on stage, he was either bashing a drumkit that he’d just knocked over, or embedded at the keyboard, oblivious to the crowd or fellow band members. If it’s true that Will Butler’s onstage antics are common during an Arcade Fire show then it seems his lifestyle bears much similarity to that of a kindergarten kid – “I must build this tower, then knock it over!!! Now I must climb!!! Where is the highest point? There!!!! I must go there... and take my drum!!!!” Of course the roadies on tour with Arcade Fire must double as Early childhood teachers... From debut album Funeral, ‘Neighbourhood #1: Tunnels’ was another favourite, with falsetto sing-along. So to was ‘Neighbourhood #3 Power Down’, with great chord changes.

The atmosphere surrounding the band was so completely infectious, it wouldn’t surprise me if Baroque-pop bands of 10 or more start popping up and Trademe is inundated with requests for hurdy-gurdies (or God forbid pipe-organs!). I hope they come to our shores again soon, because this was a complete highlight and given the chance, shouldn’t be missed!