In a corner booth, Win Butler sits beaming in a broad-brimmed black hat, at his elbow a large martini glass garnished with three fat green olives. It is Thursday evening in Manhattan’s theatre district and Butler has chosen a steakhouse once recommended to him by his late grandfather, the guitarist and swing bandleader Alvino Rey. When he began travelling the world as a teenager, Butler says, Rey would furnish him with tips. “The first time I went to London he sent me to this place that had been around for 100 years, to have the lamb chops.”
Tonight, Butler is fresh from a rehearsal for his band Arcade Fire’s appearance on Saturday Night Live. The day has seen several run-throughs of their single Put Your Money on Me, as well as a skit that references the band’s Canadian roots (though Butler and his brother Will, are from Texas). It will be their fifth performance on the show, including the time they performed as Mick Jagger’s backing band, and Butler describes the series’ appeal. “Monty Python and SNL were punk bands,” he says, his voice quick and high and giddy. “They were part of that movement, but they just got on TV.”
It is surprising to find Butler in such open spirits. Last July, Arcade Fire released their fifth studio album, Everything Now, and while it debuted at No 1 on the US and UK charts – their third album to do so – and has helped sell lots of tickets for their upcoming arena tour, the critical response was more muted. Some were unconvinced by the songs. Others took issue with the album’s promotional campaign, an elaborate construct in which the band had become contractually bound to the Everything Now Corp, and were now obliged to promote marshmallows and fizzy drinks as well as their music. Simultaneously, they posted a glut of fake news stories about themselves online, from pretend album reviews to parodic lifestyle blogs.