An abiding memory of last night is the sight of a member of one of the world's greatest rock bands setting up his gear on a tiny stage an arm's length from me. Around 200 people had the privilege of experiencing Will Butler at my favourite small venue in Manchester, which was utterly energised from the start of the evening. Glasgow five piece WHITE appears to cultivate an air of mystery, as their online presence contains scant information, with a name chosen for artistic reasons rather than for the mundane consideration of search engine optimisation. Yet, a 30 minute set approached fellow Scots Young Fathers' level of energy, driven by a relentless female drummer and a lead singer (pictured below) whose delivery reminded me of Nick Cave's. Their best known track is called Living Fiction, and I'd strongly suggest making the effort to see this band live, as the vivacious spirit of Arcade Fire appears to have permeated their being.
There were moments during Will Butler's whirlwind set when two of my most cherished memories, Coachella in 2011 for The Suburbs Tour, and Blackpool in late 2013 for Reflektor, were brought back to life. A few die hard Arcade Fire fans gathered at the front of the venue, one of whom had attended most of the UK dates since the days of Funeral, and recalled them playing clubs of tonight's size. Will Butler displayed all the anticipated infectious energy on stage, and the crowd jumped up and down to the rhythms. The hour long set was furiously paced, with almost no interruption for talk, drummer Miles Anrtzen even forgoing a chair, standing up lest he risk any drop in intensity. Sara Dobbs and Julie Shaw flanked Will on stage, playing keys and synth. respectively. They also contributed backing vocals, harmonising beautifully as a counterweight to Will's less delicate hyperactivity. Thankfully the lyrics were clearly audible and the sound uniformly excellent, as was the standard of musicianship; there was no sense this was a scratch band assembled for tour. It hardly mattered that the lighting failed to transcend the usual lacklustre level for this venue.
This was of course billed as Will's Policy tour, the album being released in April during the lull in Arcade Fire's three year cycle between touring Reflektor and entering the studio again. It's a homage to his favourite bands including Pixies, The Breeders, and notably Talking Heads, betraying a nostalgia for early rock and roll and punk. Will's spoken of a long held desire to release solo material, but the catalyst for his first album came from the raising of his profile from the Academy Award nomination for the score of Her. It's clear he's relishing the freedom of escaping his elder brother's shadow. Policy's received mixed reviews, and adjectives such as ramshackle could be seen as complementary or otherwise. Nobody could claim that is has the coherence of a masterpiece like The Suburbs. With 8 songs, and lasting less than 30 minutes, it's closer to an EP, feeling more like an experimental snapshot than a definite statement for posterity.
Indeed, it was clear last night he's already developed beyond Policy, which made up only half the set. Will's contribution to Reflektor has been portrayed as instrumental in bringing some levity to a serious band. There's no doubting his playful theatricality on stage, but the solo subject matter doesn't lack gravitas. Three songs from a series written for The Guardian newspaper tackled subjects of Greek Eurozone politics, the water crisis in Sao Paolo, and the discovery of a massive black hole. Unfortunately, we were deprived of the unplugged Violent Femmes encore played the previous night in Glasgow, understandable as the band had to drive through the night to make a morning BBC 6 Music session in London. As expected, the charisma of Will's performance eclipsed the (still impressive) song writing. It's a project born out a a love for the stage, and a burning necessity for creative expression. Clearly, his career doesn't depend upon its longevity, but this doesn't imply any lack of commitment. Raw though it is, this tour feels like merely the genesis of a continuing outpouring of a fertile imagination.
- You Must Be Kidding (Guardian)
- Son of God*
- Sun Comes Up
- Madonna Can't Save Me Now (Guardian)
- Something's Coming*
- Clean Monday (Guardian)
- Sing To Me*
- Luckiest Sailor (new song)
- Ferdinand (Magnetic Fields Cover)
- What I Want*
- Public Defender
- Take My Side*