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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Rory Carroll, Ireland correspondent

Arcade Fire: inside first concert since accusations of sexual misconduct against frontman Win Butler

Fans take selfies with Win Butler before Arcade Fire’s concert in Dublin.
Fans take selfies with Win Butler before Arcade Fire’s concert in Dublin. Photograph: Rory Carroll/The Guardian

Rón Maguire was near the front of the queue for Arcade Fire’s concert in Dublin on Tuesday evening, the start of the band’s European tour, and marooned somewhere between agony and ecstasy.

“I’ve been listening to them my whole life,” said the 20-year-old student, who wore a homemade Arcade Fire T-shirt. “But this news, jeez Louise, I’ve been in ribbons. There are many musicians that do horrid things, but Win?”

Earlier this week the singer Win Butler was accused of sexual misconduct by four people. He has denied the allegations, yet it left some fans with tickets to the first night of their European tour – and their first show since the allegations emerged on Saturday – with a dilemma: to go or not to go?

Radio stations in Canada and the US have started pulling the band’s songs from playlists. Commentators on social media have urged fans to boycott forthcoming concerts in Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and elsewhere. Some fans in Dublin said on Twitter they had decided to not attend.

Many were surprised the tour was going ahead at all. Asked for comment, a publicist for Arcade Fire said only that the band would continue its tour, which promotes its new album, We.

JD Carey, left, and Rón Maguire, queue for Arcade Fire’s concert at 3Arena in Dublin.
JD Carey, left, and Rón Maguire, queue for Arcade Fire’s concert at 3Arena in Dublin. Photograph: Rory Carroll/The Guardian

In the 3Arena the show’s opening act, the Canadian singer Feist, made no mention of the allegations during her performance. She displayed a poster on her merchandise stall pledging to donate the proceeds from her sales to Women’s Aid, an Irish charity that helps victims of domestic abuse. Her publicist did not return a request for comment.

Maguire’s solution to the dilemma was to defer learning details of the allegations against Butler until after the show. “I’d much rather not know now. I think once in I’ll be in the zone. I’ll read about it when I get home. I’ll be upset.”

Maguire’s companion, JD Carey, 18, came in solidarity with her friend but felt queasy. “It’s horrible for the victims to see fans still supporting the band.”

Inside the arena Shan Conley, 19, echoed the sentiment. “I wouldn’t have bought the ticket if the news had come out before. I wouldn’t want to contribute to his earnings if he had done something like that.”

Her companion, Steve Dowling, 20, had no doubts about attending. “Until he’s proven guilty it’s just allegations.”

An investigation by the US music publication Pitchfork found that four individuals, aged between 18 and 23 at the time, allege Butler behaved inappropriately. The three women, and one gender-fluid person, accuse the singer of exploiting his fame and their fandom, including sending unwanted sexual messages, during incidents that occurred between 2015 and 2020, when Butler was between 34 and 39.

Win Butler performing in Dublin.
Win Butler performing in Dublin. Photograph: Debbie Hickey/Getty Images

Butler said the relationships were consensual: “It is deeply revisionist, and frankly just wrong, for anyone to suggest otherwise.”

The controversy has shocked many because Arcade Fire became indie music aristocracy – they played Barack Obama’s inauguration – on the back of anthemic songs and a wholesome, politically progressive image. Butler’s longtime partner Régine Chassagne performs with the band and defended him to Pitchfork, saying she was “certain” he had never touched a woman without consent.

Butler caused a frisson just before the Dublin show when he strode through the arena and greeted surprised, delighted fans. One woman, who just minutes earlier had learned of the allegations via Twitter, posed with the Grammy-winner for selfies, beaming. She would read about the allegations after the show, she said.

Asked by the Guardian if he would address the controversy from the stage Butler paused, shrugged, offered a handshake and walked away.

Taking to the stage to deafening cheers from a near capacity arena, Butler thanked the audience “from the bottom of my heart” for attending. It was the closest he came to alluding to the allegations.

Minimising banter, he launched into the band’s classic hit, Wake Up, and delivered an energetic set with Chassagne and the rest of the band, mixing old hits and new songs.

The band left the stage to a clip of Ben E King’s Stand By Me, another possible allusion to the situation.

The rapturous response from the crowd – and the lack of any obvious heckling – suggested these fans, at least, were keeping the faith.

“He’s a rock star, it comes with the territory, it’s the lifestyle,” said Dessie Hamill, 60, who had left his Northern Ireland home that morning to nab a spot at the front of the stage. “Women are chasing him every day of the week. They are one of the biggest bands in the world.”

Others were unaware of the allegations and, when told, shrugged them off. “No offence to the male species but a man’s a man,” said one woman in her 30s. “I’m just here for the music.”

Others conceded unease but said they separated art from the artist. “I’m not justifying anything but different artists have had questionable behaviour in the past and you still listen to the music,” said Silvia D’Angelo, 31, from Italy.

Another female fan, aged 29, echoed the sentiment. “People still listen to Michael Jackson.” She declined to give her name, citing the reaction of younger “woke” colleagues.

Pat O’Leary, 50, said the allegations surprised him. “Arcade Fire would have a certain cachet about trying to do the right thing.” He had bought a T-shirt whose proceeds went to Haiti. Sexual misconduct allegations tainted other creative figures such as Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, said O’Leary. “Would it stop me watching Chinatown? No.”

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