Welcome to Tap Don't Talk, a conversational feature which pits 405 writers Rob Wilson and Mike Clark against each other to shoot the shit about current affairs in the world of music. This is more casual, personal and comprehensive than a typical in-depth feature, firing up ideas about a certain topic that might not all fit into a normal article but are still worth discussing. This is by no means a conversation limited to just us though, feel free to add your two cents in the comments section below or call us names on Twitter if you want - Rob is @robinamicrowave, Mike is @Pixleh and, of course, there's @The405. Enjoy!


Mike Clark: Jesus H. Christ, it's been over two months since we last did this. Exams and life kind of got in the way of getting together to write this, even though there was a lot of material we could have covered. I mean, Death Grips broke up, which made our first ever column look totally on point and far more prescient than intended. So that was a thing. Then Arctic Monkeys were revealed as being no better than Gary Barlow. It also came out that they avoid tax, giving a reason for people to moan about them because nobody seems to want to call them out for their shitty music. There was also Glastonbury, which we didn't go to, Wireless, which we didn't go to, and plenty of other big things we couldn't be arsed to talk about because we're bad at our jobs. But we did see Arcade Fire together at London's Hyde Park. So that's what we're going to talk because why the fuck not?

Rob Wilson: I can only add to Mike's apologies. We've been badly behaved recently, what with exams and holidays and Netflix marathons (everyone, go watch Orange Is the New Black and Archer if you don't already), but we're back with some time on our hands. Luckily, that Arcade Fire gig in London gives us something to talk about. I mean, Death Grips breaking up has been done to death by various publications already, so we've decided to shout about our wonderful day in sunny London and see if anyone's interested. What started with Wild Beasts and Future Islands ended with Arcade Fire going out to 'Wake Up' as the sun went down behind it all. It's worth talking about, dammit.

Mike: Well, I wouldn't call it an apology because I'm sure people were glad to be rid of us. But anyway, it's an interesting time for Arcade Fire: they're still touring Reflektor and playing huge gigs worldwide, which peaked with a warmly received Glastonbury headline performance, even though the consensus around the album seems to have deteriorated massively since its release barely a year ago. They've become one of the biggest bands in the world on the quiet, and holy shit they definitely perform like it now. I saw them play Hyde Park in 2011, when they were touring The Suburbs, and while they were good and played well, the gig we went to last week (probably a couple of weeks ago when you're reading this) was on another level. I mean, it was a fucking blast, which I wouldn't have necessarily expected of them. They seemed much more uninhibited on stage, and the audience responded in kind. Where we were standing, towards the back of the front enclosure on the left, was full of people dancing and singing along. No knobheads, just people enjoying the music and the atmosphere and the glorious day. It's probably the most fun I've had at a gig since I saw The Flaming Lips perform The Soft Bulletin at Alexandra Palace in 2011, which is kind of a huge compliment coming from me.

Rob: I'd imagine that everyone who saw them at Hyde Park and Glastonbury were glad to catch them. Not just because they've settled into their position as festival headliners with almost unnatural ease, but because it's probably the last time they're going to be in Europe for a while, what with an upcoming American tour and a new album rumoured to be in the works. The Hyde Park setting seemed to benefit them and the support acts -- Future Islands, Wild Beasts and, uh, Jake Bugg -- down to the ground too: bright sunshine, pleasantly drunk Brits and a gorgeous park in London. Although, the headline act naturally go the best of it, as Arcade Fire doing their thing while the sun went down was a beautiful thing to behold. Win Butler even made a comment about how perfect that sunset was. But yeah, it was a brilliant atmosphere where we were, just a load of happy drunks enjoying the hell out of a polished and interactive live set. Coming away, I felt like I wanted more, more, more (they didn't fucking play 'Keep the Car Running' for god's sake) and I just wanted to talk about them, or to them, or be them. Gigs that make you feel like that are always the best ones.

Mike: Exactly. And you touched Win Butler's hand, in the best/worst high five since Louis van Gaal and Robin Van Persie at the World Cup.

Rob: That's true, he did. I mean, he just skimmed my index finger, but it was still enough of a touch to justify not washing it until I next went to the loo.

Mike: Well, I was like ten feet away from Spike Jonze at one point. That was pretty rad, considering he's directed some of my favourite films. Anyway, the common consensus about Reflektor, outside reviews that is, seems to be that it was a kind of a misstep. At least, that's what I get from Twitter, and I don't agree with it at all because I still really like it. It was bloated as fuck, but it was fun, and that's something I've missed in Arcade's Fire's music since Funeral. They've often been characterised as overly earnest, accordion-wielding nerdy troubadours, but goddamn it Funeral was a joyous album that could make even the most hard-hearted person dance around the room like a mad bastard. They veered away from that with Neon Bible and The Suburbs, and that was fine, but I was glad to see them return to fucking around and having a good time, regardless of what people think of Reflektor. That sort of attitude was echoed in their performance, most of which was mostly comprised of tracks from Reflektor.

Rob: Do you think Mr. LCD Soundsystem has had a lasting influence on them?

Mike: Uh, I'm not sure. Reflektor is definitely evidence of James Muprhy projecting his desire to be the Talking Heads onto Arcade Fire, but, as I said, the their dancier sound has its roots in Funeral. Maybe he's just rekindled their desire to actually make people move, rather than move them with violins and shit?

Rob: I think Reflektor is Arcade Fire's biggest step away from Funeral so far, to be honest. They've gone much further than simply paying homage to disco and dance with flashes underneath their stadium-sized indie rock ('Crown of Love', the drums in 'Neighbourhood #1') by writing dance tracks. 'We Exist' is a little bit too much like a Michael Jackson Off the Wall era tribute piece, but there's a freedom about Reflektor which I don't think The Suburbs had at all.

Mike: Oh, I agree, it was a change of direction for sure, but I don't think it's that illogical or unnatural if you listen to Funeral. I mean, beyond 'Crown of Love' and 'Neighbourhood #1', there's 'Rebellion (Lies)', and 'Neighbourhood #3', the end of 'Wake Up' too. These songs were all played at Hyde Park and fit in very well with the Reflektor material and the party-oriented nature of the show. They could have played 'Haiti', which they did at Glastonbury, 'Neighbourhood #2', and even 'Une Annee sans Lumiere' (mainly for the last minute) and they wouldn't have felt out of place. Compare that with the material they played from The Suburbs (the title track, 'Ready to Start', 'Rococo' and 'Sprawl II'), which was patchier. 'Sprawl II' and 'Ready to Start' worked well (as did the two Neon Bible tracks, 'Intervention' and 'No Cars Go'), but 'Rococo' and, as much as I love it, 'The Suburbs' felt a bit flat when everything around it was so vibrant and lovely.

Rob: One thing that struck me more than the amount of colour the show had bursting out of it was how much they seemed to care about making sure certain tracks came across as a complete experience over others. 'Here Comes the Night Time (Part 1)' was backed by clouds of ticker tape and so alive with colour and energy, but, as you said, 'Rococo' felt sort of... flat, like people were waiting for it to finish. There were a few hardcore fans joining in but it didn't suit the setting. It's not necessarily the song's problem (it'd be fine in a smaller venue) but out in a field Reflektor and Funeral (and the singles from Neon Bible) got the best reception.

Mike: I just think it was a slightly poor choice for the selist. 'Rococo' sounds big enough to fill that kind of venue, but in such an energetic setlist it didn't really pop. If they had a Suburbs-quota to fill, then something like Month of May or Empty Room would have kept the momentum going. Other than that, though, it was a very solid setlist. Arcade Fire are at the point now where they've got so many hits that you're likely going to be grumbling about one or two songs you would have liked to see, but I'm very happy with what we got. And, as you said, it was a very vivid show, they know what they're doing in terms of stagecraft and its relationship with the music at this point, and they clearly up their game for shows of this scale. Now, actually, here's a thing: I've read a lot of complaints about the sound, it's sort of a common thing at Hyde Park, but I didn't have any real issues with it. You know more about this sort of stuff than I do, Rob, but it sounded fine to my (admittedly broken) ears.

Rob: Well, considering the crowd, Future Islands, Wild Beasts and pretty much everyone apart from Jake Bugg were complaining about the poorly balanced sub-bass frequencies, it's fair to say there were problems with the sound early on. But the sound desk people were nice enough, so every time a request was made to tone the bass down a notch they listened and followed suit. It's always nice when they're respectful in that manner considering the size of the event. But yeah, when Arcade Fire started playing it sounded mostly okay to me, and the show has also helped me get back onto Reflektor, because I felt like it sort of initially passed me by when it came out, so that's another positive.

Mike: Oh yeah, even I heard the issues with the bass during the support acts (not so much Jake Bugg, because I went to get some food during most of his set and paid £7.50 for a burger and bottle of water and spent the rest of his set crying in a corner somewhere). I meant during Arcade Fire, because, as far as open-air shows go, it sounded great to me. I was totally immersed in it, so I don't know what else I could ask for, really. And it's nice that the show has turned you back to Reflektor, because, as I've said, I really do like that album. Hopefully more people come round to it too. How come you let it pass you by?

Rob: I don't think it was a case of letting it pass me by as such, I think it was a case of listening to it, thinking it was okay, and then just not really going back to it. It came out in the same month as Fuzz, Danny Brown, Future of the Left and was closely followed by Lady Gaga, which I just spent more time with. This year I'm kind of purposely behind on new things and catching up with things I missed from last year and decades ago, so it was a good chance to do Reflektor (and all of Arcade Fire's discography) again.

Mike: So what do you think of it now?

Rob: Reflektor? It feels as though they've entered a new era and just have to set about fine-tuning a few things, like length and cohesion. It's still a fun record which sounds like it has been written to suit the bigger venues they've been playing off the back of the success of The Suburbs, and for the most part it works with the altogether dancier, more abrasive approach. But I feel like we won't get the best of this reinvention until their next album, you know? I thought it was bloated and inconsistent - seriously, Side A would work just as well without Side B there (apart from Afterlife) - but their largest step away from their former selves. It hasn't gone down well with some, who've compared it to a "shit LCD Soundsystem", but I think some appreciate that this is a step in a different direction which isn't quite ready to produce spectacular results yet.

Mike: I mostly agree with that, but I guess I'm more forgiving of its faults than you. It was audacious and ambitious, not afraid to piss people off and willing to send a band that had turned itself into a slight caricature in a new direction. It didn't all work, but I'd take weird experiments like Flashbulb Eyes over the dreariness of 'Modern Man' from The Suburbs in a heartbeat. I mean, if there's one word I wouldn't use to describe Reflektor ,it's dreary, and that's to its credit. Even songs I keep thinking are slightly naff, like 'We Exist' and 'You Already Know', always win me over by the time they're finished because, I hate to keep repeating this, they're just a load of fun, you know? They make me want to dance and let loose go outside and have a good time, and that's something of a marvel because Arcade Fire had previously gone so far away from being that band. Some people I've talked to seem to be vehemently against that, or at least against how Refletkor sounded, but it worked for me and it seemed to work for 50,000-odd people drunk in a park while rich people got pissed off because of the noise.