Rón Maguire was almost to the front of the queue for Arcade Fire’s concert in Dublin on Tuesday night, the start of the band’s European tour, and left somewhere between agony and ecstasy.
“I’ve been listening to them my whole life,” said the 20-year-old student, who was wearing a homemade Arcade Fire T-shirt. “But this news, jeez Louise, I’ve been on tape. There are many musicians who do horrible things, but Win?
Earlier this week, singer Win Butler was accused of sexual misconduct by four people. She has denied the allegations, but left some fans with tickets to the first night of her European tour, and her first show since the allegations surfaced on Saturday, with a dilemma: to go or not to go?
Radio stations in Canada and the US have begun pulling the band’s songs from playlists. Commentators on social media have urged fans to boycott upcoming concerts in Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and elsewhere. Some fans in Dublin said on Twitter that they had decided not to attend.
Many were surprised that the tour went ahead. When asked for comment, an Arcade Fire publicist would say only that the band would continue their tour, which promotes their new album, We.
At 3Arena, the show’s opening act, Canadian singer Feist, did not mention the allegations during her performance. She displayed a sign at her merchandise stand 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 respond to a request for comment.
Maguire’s solution to the dilemma was to defer the details of the accusations against Butler until after the show. He would prefer not to know now. I think once inside I’ll be in the zone. I’ll read it when I get home. I will be upset.
Maguire’s companion, JD Carey, 18, came to sympathize with his friend but felt dizzy. “It’s horrible for the victims to see the fans still supporting the band.”
Inside the arena, 19-year-old Shan Conley echoed the sentiment. “I would not have bought the ticket if the news had come out earlier. I wouldn’t want to contribute to her profit if she had done something like that.”
His companion, Steve Dowling, 20, did not hesitate to attend. “Until his guilt is proven, it’s just accusations.”
An investigation by the American music publication Pitchfork found that four people, aged between 18 and 23 at the time, allege that Butler behaved inappropriately. The three women and one genderfluid person accuse the singer of exploiting his fame and fandom, including sending unwanted sexual messages, during incidents that occurred between 2015 and 2020, when Butler was between 34 and 39 years old.
Butler said that relationships were consensual: “It is profoundly revisionist, and frankly wrong, for anyone to suggest otherwise.”
The controversy has shocked many because Arcade Fire became independent music’s aristocracy (they played Barack Obama’s inauguration) thanks to iconic songs and a wholesome, politically progressive image. Butler’s partner, Régine Chassagne, plays with the band and defended him to Pitchfork, saying she was “sure” he had never touched a woman without her consent.
Butler sent chills down the spine just before the Dublin show when he walked through the arena and greeted surprised and delighted fans. A woman, who only 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 the stage to deafening cheers from a nearly full stadium, Butler thanked the audience “from the bottom of my heart” for coming. It was the closest he came to alluding to the accusations.
Playing jokes down, 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 enthusiastic response from the crowd, and the lack of obvious booing, suggested that these fans were, at least, keeping the faith.
“It’s a rock star, it comes with the territory, it’s the lifestyle,” said Dessie Hamill, 60, who had left her home in Northern Ireland that morning to get a spot at the front of the stage. “Women chase 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. “No offense to the male species, but a man is a man,” said a woman in her 30s. “I’m only here for the music.”
Others acknowledged his uneasiness but said they separated the art from the artist. “I’m not justifying anything, but different artists have had questionable behavior in the past and you still listen to the music,” said Silvia D’Angelo, 31, from Italy.
Another fan, 29, echoed the sentiment. “People still listen to Michael Jackson.” She declined to give her name, citing the reaction of younger “awakened” colleagues.
Pat O’Leary, 50, said the allegations shocked him. “Arcade Fire would have a certain prestige in trying to do the right thing.” He had bought a t-shirt with proceeds going to Haiti. The sexual misconduct allegations have tainted other creative figures such as Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, O’Leary said. “Would it stop me from seeing Chinatown? Nope.”