In Arcade Fire, Will Butler, brother of frontman Win, has never really stood back in the shadows. A talented multi-instrumentalist, he’s always performed energetically on stage with both musical talent and a hyperactive showmanship that contributes to the highly dramatic effect that the band are so well-known for.
His latest album Policy has received solid if not overly enthusiastic praise from critics, perhaps indicative of the cynicism people tend to approach side project. In Arcade Fire of course, Butler’s got a high bar set to be consistently compared to.
The set begins with all the urgent intensity that you would expect. The band lined up stood across the front of the stage (including the drummer) in black sweatshirts with their names emblazoned in big, white letters across the front, yet all eyes are on Will as he seems to be full of frantic energy. As he plays the first chord of the second song in, he breaks a string on his guitar, but barely blinks as he continues to thrash out the psych inspired alt-rock that’s a recurring theme on the album.
He doesn’t waste much time with between song chatter, moving from one to the next with little interruption. As a front man, he’s reminiscent of Jack White, with both an unpredictable air and commanding presence that makes him highly watchable.
Drawing on influences from all over the place – from the punk inspired “What I Want” to the Talking Heads style “Witness”, and “Anna”, with the refrain of “bam baram bam bam bam bam baram bam” creating the effect of a futuristic Beach Boys song, theres’ still a strand of emotive darkness running through all these songs, which gives the sound some cohesiveness.
The rest of the band also help to build a lively atmosphere, running round the stage often adding staccato harmonies, but there are times when Butler brings it down a notch too; as he starts to sing ballad “Sing to Me”, the crowd audibly hush each other and lean in, and the energy changes from punk show to intimate gig in an instant.
Butler does deliver better live than on record, and proved that he can still create a theatrical show without the budget of Arcade Fire, it would seem that the difference in production values are more apparent in the studio that on the stage.
Tonight, Butler shows he’s got more than enough material to warrant his own band; there’s material here that wouldn’t work in the context of Arcade Fire, but his hyperactive personality makes it shine. Plus, although there are only eight tracks on Policy, he plays almost twice as many - and you get the feeling there’s plenty more where that came from.