On Saturday 3rd September the Canadian band Arcade Fire played Manchester Go Arena as part of their world tour to support the release of their new album ‘We’.
As a fan of the band for 14 years I had a ticket for the concert; having seen them previously I consider them to be one of the elite live rock acts on the planet. Although fronted by lead singer and songwriter Win Butler, the band are very much an ensemble outfit, no-one greater than the sum of its parts.
Arcade Fire observe and reflect through their quirky, individual and strongly melodic songs that are never predictable whilst constantly evolving. They sing of the downbeat humdrum of the everyday, the fears of the everyman in a world where individuality becomes homogenised, as the distance between reality and aspiration grow wider.
In short, they feel like they get it. The pain and the hope, the angst and the liberation of the individual, and this forms an integral part of their strong, dedicated following.
So it was an unexpected body blow when on the eve of the UK leg of the tour allegations of sexual impropriety by Win Butler towards four women were revealed. Butler has admitted to the sexual conduct alleged whilst insisting it was consensual; a claim in part at least not denied by the women concerned.
But it seems apparent that Butler used his power as a rock ‘star’ to foster these incidents, citing depression following a recent family miscarriage and abuse as a child as the driving force behind his behaviour. Whilst deeply traumatic incidents in his life, these can be judged as thin excuses for such sustained behaviour over at least a three-year period with women up to 18 years his junior.
Support act, Canadian singer-songwriter Feist, for whom this tour would have represented the biggest audiences of her career, decided to pull from the tour, explaining she was ‘claiming her responsibility now and going home’.
Where then, does this leave the fan with a ticket, a no-refund policy from the band and Ticketmaster? And, more pointedly, their relationship with the music?
This is what I pondered painfully throughout Friday and Saturday in the hours leading to the concert. And I was far from the only one, going by the outrage and confusion splashed across social media from long-time fans across the UK and beyond. One couple announced on Twitter that they had cancelled their Manchester hotels rooms and had decided to go home, leaving their tickets unused and their seats empty.
Butler’s wife Regine Chassagne, a tour de force of electrifying energy and founding member of the band, publicly forgave her husband, stating that Win is ‘her soulmate’ who ‘lost his way, and he has found his way back. I love him and love the life we have created together.’
If Regine, the one probably most hurt by Win’s actions could forgive and move on, surely that should be enough for the rest of us. Or is it?
My decision about whether to attend went back and forth throughout the day. It hung over me, knowing I should make a stand, even if I was the only one who probably would be affected by or aware of that stand.
My ticket had been part paid for by relatives for my recent birthday. Do I let their hard-earned money just go to waste? I was angry that myself and many others had been handed this dilemma by Butler, but four hours before the gig, I decided to go. The very least he can do, I decided, is sing for his supper.
And the show itself, of course, was brilliant. But throughout my enthusiasm felt muted. The two seats next to me were empty. I knew whatever decision I had made, would have felt like the wrong one. And where does this leave my relationship with their music from now?
Only recently that ultimate bastion of creative integrity, Bruce Springsteen, was heavily criticised by allowing Ticketmaster to employ ‘dynamic pricing’ that allows tour ticket prices to rise dramatically and in real time according to demand. Should a man who recently sold his song catalogue to Sony for a record 500 million dollars look to make extra money due to fan’s demand and dedication? Or should he be allowed to sell his art and hard work over fifty years for whatever price he chooses?
But charging extortionate ticket prices is one thing, cheating on your wife, and on multiple occasions, is another.
For an artist like Rod Stewart or Mick Jagger these principles would not apply, indeed such behaviour has enhanced their appeal. For someone like Butler however, particularly in today’s more enlightened age, he has chosen to stamp over somewhat hallowed and dangerous ground.
It’s hard when the creative people we look towards to help make sense of a confusing world let us down. Are we setting them up on too high an idealistic pedestal? Does it really matter at all?
It does matter, very much so. But how we deal with that disappointment is really down to the individual, whether to forgive and keep listening, or whether to close the conversation with that artist once and for all.