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Following a two and a half-year absence from the UK, Arcade Fire has announced three dates this summer. They are at Belfast and Manchester and at the Isle of Wight Festival, also one in Dublin, as part of a 16 show European tour kicking off at Barcelona’s Primavera Sound at the beginning of June and finishing – so far, at least – in Florence in mid-July.

Summer 2014 saw the Montreal band perform twice at Earls Court, then headlining Friday night at Glastonbury, followed a week later by the British Summer Time Festival in London’s Hyde Park but they failed to take in any other non-London venues on the ‘Reflektor’ tour though they had performed a scaled down warm up show under one of their aliases, The Reflektors at Blackpool’s Empress Ballroom in November 2013.

Prior to that their last non-London UK appearances other than in TV studios were at Manchester Arena and Edinburgh Castle at the end of August/beginning of September 2011, which means that the Blackpool show apart, Arcade Fire will have been absent from the British provinces for almost six years by the time they arrive in Newport on 10th June.

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That fact hasn’t gone down too well with some of their fans, who were already polarised by ‘Reflektor,’ the follow up to Grammy Album of the Year ‘The Suburbs’ (2010).While some welcomed the flirtation with dance music and the presence of LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy as co-producer, others felt that the unanticipated Grammy win might have gone to their heads as they adorned themselves with giant papier mache bobblehead masks and band leader Win Butler seemed to grow one of his own as he boasted the likes of David Bowie and David Byrne were queuing up to work with the group, to the discomfort of some of his colleagues.

Since then the band has seen some disruption with violinist Sarah Neufeld increasingly distracted by her solo and duo work (with partner Colin Stetson) and her yoga studio, while junior Butler Will, bassist Tim Kingsbury and drummer Jeremy Gara have all ploughed their own furrow with debut solo albums.

It has been known for almost a year that a new album is in production, with an anticipated release date of spring 2017. As ever, the process was at Arcade Fire’s speed – slow and steady – and a surfeit of material has been recorded. It seems that final mixing is now taking place and there is an evens chance the album will be released prior to these shows.

As for the material, Tim Kingsbury suggested not long after Reflektor that they were likely to gravitate back towards traditional Arcade Fire indie territory (presumably meaning ‘Funeral’ and ‘Neon Bible’) for this, their fifth album, while more recently other band members have hinted of another dance themed album.

The selection of venues is interesting. In his post-Reflektor bobblehead period Win Butler and their manager were talking about them doing less shows but all of them in stadiums yet at the same time smaller venues had been identified for the ‘Reflektor’ warm-up performances (which included two nights at London’s Roundhouse in addition to Blackpool) and the band was reported to have enjoyed going back to basics. There are no arenas or giant stadiums here this time out. The Belfast show is at the Belsonic Festival, which has a 5,000 capacity, while Manchester’s Castlefield Bowl is an arena only in name, holding 8,000, which is 6,000 less than the crowd that turned out to see them at what was then the Manchester Evening News Arena in 2011.

The Manchester show, included in the Sounds of the City festival, is also part of the biennial International Festival of original and new work and special events, and the organisers are rigorous with that requirement. Björk premiered ‘Biophilia’ there as a multimedia live extravaganza in 2011 and Damon Albarn has frequently done much the same.

The best things come in small(er) packages as the saying goes. It could prove to be an interesting evening at all the venues.

Full tour schedule as at 13 February 2017

03 June Barcelona, Spain – Primavera Sound
10 June Newport, England – Isle of Wight Festival
13 June Belfast, Ireland – Belsonic Festival
14 June Dublin, Ireland – Malahide Castle
16 June Cologne, Germany – Tanzbrunnen
17 June Hilvarenbeek, Netherlands – Best Kept Secret Festival
19 June Zagreb, Croatia – INmusic Festival
29 June Wercher, Belgium – Rock Werchter
01 July Rosklide, Denmark – Rosklide Festival
02 July Berlin, Germany – Wuhlheide
06 July Manchester, England – Castlefield Bowl
09 July Belfort, France – Eurockéennes Festival
11 July Linz, Austria – Ahoi! The Full Hit of Summer
15 July Carhaix-Plouguer, France – Vieilles Charrues
17 July Milan, Italy – City Season Festival
18 July Florence, Italy – City Season Festival

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