So, who’s that band there? It’s a question that surely needs no answering in the Autumn of 2013,asArctic Monkeyspeer down fromwhat might betheir loftiest commercialposition since the time of their debut record in 2006.
In fact, to reminisce for a moment, the mid-noughties feel like a hell of a long time ago. It was the dawn of the social media generation, when everything was bright, shiny and new, and a time when Smirnoff Ice/Tropical Reef lids popped in jubilant celebration as Arctic Monkeys, floating upon the good ship Myspace, were crowned as flag bearers for a new age, where acts were promoted for the fans by the fans. It promised so much. This was a newly democratic era. The sly, venal and money grabbing paws of the record labels were viciously amputated. The future of bands were in the hands of the public. This was to be a musical utopia promising a gleaming future.
The benefit of hindsight offers sobering perspective. Social media brought down the barricades, yes, but it also flooded the (my)space. With so many sounds, looks and styles to hear, observe and absorb, people drowned in the information. Too many bands and not enough time. In the end – and we are still suffering from this now – there is simply not enough time or money to go around for the abundant cornucopia of acts. We find ourselves in a new space, sure, but with the same sad reality that record labels, powering behind their latest pop puppet, wield the strongest power and that vital unifying sense of cultural omnipresence.
However, the torch bearers of thatnaive andpromisingtimeare now present witharenewed vigour, andthis is evident on theirrecentlyreleased, self-titled, album. Last night they played the first of two sold-out dates at South London’s Earls Court on a victory lap of the country to celebrate their fifth concessive number 1 LP. Judging from the hero’s welcome that erupts as the band trundle on stage, they have the power to carouse quite a party.
Alex Turner takes his spot behind the microphone, guitar in hand, and churns out the slow and sexy riff to ‘Do I Wanna Know?’. His new trademark quiff is in place (in fact, he will resort to combinghis slicklocks at a number of points during the course of the evening). The song is greeted like a long lost friend -around 19,000 people sing along to, firstly, the guitar part, and then the chorus line. It is hard to believe that this is a single that was released only 4 months previous.It is quickly followed by old favourite ‘Brianstorm’ before a dip into their debut record’s ‘Dancing Shoes’.
Over the course of the Monkey’s lifespan they have come under attack for lacking charisma, of being a vacuum in stage presence. This night proves that Turner has evolved into a frontman of some merit. The hip swivelling, finger pointing, shimmy and shake may smack slightly of a self-conscious attempt at showmanship but it fulfils a necessary brief. A gap is bridged between lyrics of substance and something that can now be classed as a spectacle (of sorts).
The short, sharp songs of the first 20 minutes open out to thethoughtful sounds of ‘Fireside’ and ‘Reckless Serenade’. It would be hard to deny that this does not prompt a slight lull in the atmosphere. It is a conscious reduction in gear though, and it offers an insight into the band’s broader musical palette. Soon, things are back on course. ‘Old Yellow Bricks’ makes a claim for great lost single, and ‘Pretty Visitors’ explodes in a manner that is evocative of Nick Cave’s early incarnation as The Birthday Party.
In a rare between song comment, Turner brokers instruction that, ‘This one is for the ladies’, before hollering in a Beastie Boy’s-esque ‘Laaaddiiieess’. This is followed by ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’. Pandemonium ensues.
Towards the end of the main set, there are a few meandering misfires. The weaker of the new album’s tracks are pitched forward in the shape of ‘No1 Party Anthem’ and the set-closing ‘I Wanna Be Yours’. It is a whimper of a finish and considering that the totemic ‘When The Sun Goes Down’ does not get played, nor do either of their first two albums’ epic last tracks, ‘505’ or ‘A Certain Romance’ it is a decidedly odd choice. ‘Brick by Brick’ or ‘She’s Thunderstorms’ also get surprisingly ignored. The band’s comparatively unloved ‘Humbug’ gets scant coverage but there is no real surprise there.
As they emerge once again for the inevitable encore, they launch into a positively funky ‘Snap Out Of It’, followed by the acoustic take on ‘Mardy Bum’ that was first unveiled at the now infamous Glastonbury headline performance in the summer. They close with a rousing ‘R U Mine?’ and wave goodbye.
Arctic Monkeys can stake a genuine claim to being the best band in Britain right now. It is hard to think of another group who forge new ground with almost each release, maintain such a high standard of lyricaldetail and inspire similar devotion and abandon. They have the crossover appeal that is becoming increasingly remote in the landscape of musical fracture, where people are often sucked into the murky world of genre-specific listening habits and the closed-box mentality of categorisation and definition. We need more of their ilk.
Arctic Monkeys played:
1. Do I Wanna Know?
3. Dancing Shoes
4. Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair
5. Teddy Picker
6. Crying Lightning
7. One for the Road
9. Reckless Serenade
10. Old Yellow Bricks
11. Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?
13. Pretty Visitors
14. I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor
15. Cornerstone (semi-acoustic)
16. No. 1 Party Anthem
17. Fluorescent Adolescent
18. I Wanna Be Yours
19. Snap Out of It
20. Mardy Bum (semi-acoustic)
21. R U Mine?