mon 15/08/2022

Arctic Monkeys, O2 review - musicanship and showmanship successfully collide | reviews, news & interviews

Arctic Monkeys, O2 review - musicanship and showmanship successfully collide

Arctic Monkeys, O2 review - musicanship and showmanship successfully collide

Sheffield rockers make up in concert performance execution what they have lost in charm

So here we are. Over a decade since we all fell in love. So many light years from the rubble to the Ritz. From Sheffield to LA, where half the band is now based. And by the looks of the audience, a fair proportion has been along for the whole ride.

Not that it’s always been easy to support them. Never mind the information/action ratio, what perhaps should concern us about the Arctic Monkeys is the genius/dross ratio in evidence since that first life-changing release. They could hardly be accused of churning out all-killer/no-filler albums. And the recent decidedly difficult (almost) concept album is just as divided between exceptional and disappointing.

“Excellent albums should be awful on first listen,” wrote Jonathan Dean in GQ. True, at least four tracks on Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino have proved to be real growers – and they’re received warmly tonight. “Star Treatment” is a sly earworm and is a sturdy opener for the set. The title track, strange as it is, fascinates. “One Point Perspective” with its paranoid supposition “I suppose the singer must die” just about works in the arena setting, “Science Fiction” – more Last Shadow Puppets than Arctic Monkeys – does not (which seems to annoy singer Alex Turner – “Show me how you really feel,” he snipes at the audience response). “Four Out of Five”, closing before the encore, is already a crowd favourite, escalating as it does until 20,000 voices unite.

But – let’s face it – it’s hard to compete for affection against the older material. “Crying Lightening” and “Teddy Picker” cause mayhem in the mosh pit. Five tracks from AM are absolutely pitch perfect for the arena:  “Snap Out of It”, “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?”, “Do I Wanna Know?”, “Arabella” and encore-closer “R U Mine?”; the mystifyingly ordinary “Knee Socks”, less so.

Unsurprisingly, the band’s intoxicating exuberance has mellowed. Those loveable scraps have grown up and moved on. What’s now missing is the feeling of this really being a band. This is Turner’s show. Even the extraordinary agile beast that is drummer Matt Helders doesn’t get much of a look in, and it feels as if the “Jam of Boston” outro to “505” is there just to give him a chance to demonstrate his exceptional skills. It doesn’t look like fun. You can see why guitarist Jamie Cook suggested that the latest offering be a solo affair.

All epaulettes, no socks and ankle-length flares, Turner’s current stage alter-ego isn’t massively likeable. Large-screen close-ups appear to encourage the amateur dramatics (a small if incredibly talented man filling a huge space). While the showmanship may be a necessary antidote to the awkward old days, it seems that charm has become smarm. What cannot be faulted is the band’s musicianship. Nick O’Malley’s steady bass keeps the whole thing on course, as he hides towards the back of the stage. And Jamie Cook has less interest in the audience than all of them – he’s away with the guitar fairies. Astonishing lighting, rib-thumping acoustics and an understated yet witty set make solid the foundations for this foray.

Holding together such a disparate back catalogue and carrying a multi-generational audience along with you as you do it, is no mean feat. Most things have changed – subject, style, emphasis – but common threads are still distinguishable, not least legendary sparks of humour and an ever-present tinge of melancholy. And a desire to push the envelope more than any right-minded popular music combo should. That's why they're still the best in the game, 13 years since they first bombarded the charts. And why this audience is still in love with them.

Overleaf: watch an hour of Arctic Monkeys live at TRNSMT Festival in July 2018


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