Arctic Monkeys, Astoria, London, April 13, 2007
It’s funny, I mentioned to one of the producers on Simon Mayo’s show today (on which I was filling in for Mark Kermode) that I was off to see Arctic Monkeys tonight, and he responded, “Why on earth would you want to do that?” It’s amazing how some people just take against them. I still love them, and tonight was the seventh time we’ve seen them. What was strange about tonight’s gig – sold out, obviously, since the demand for tickets for their current, all-too-modest UK tour far outstrips supply – was that the album from which most of the set was taken is not yet released, and thus, nobody knows the songs. This has never happened before, because even before Whatever People Say I Am Etc. was released, the fans knew every word to every song due to the sharing of the demos. Certain new numbers have been added to the setlist in the meantime to keep us on our toes, but by and large, a gig has been a communal experience. Tonight, the difference in reaction to old songs versus new was marked.
Choice cuts from the first album (Still Take You Home, Dancefloor, A Certain Romance, Sun Goes Down, Mardy Bum, Dancing Shoes) were greeted like old friends ie. with thrown beer. (Do you greet old friends by throwing beer at them?) The new stuff, barring the public domain-residing Brianstorm, went out unsung, which was an almost eerie experience at an Arctic Monkeys show. I know it’s a media privilege, but having had the album in heavy rotation for some weeks now, it was a real treat to hear such in-house and in-car favourites as Balaclava, Do Me A Favour and If You Were There, Beware live – they reproduced every guitar subtlety with amazing precision, and it was interesting to see how the duties were split between Alex and Jamie, with Alex taking on much of the detail. He’s quite the musical genius. Shame not to hear The Only Ones Who Know, 505 or Fluorescent Adolescent, but they only play for just over an hour, with no encores, so you have to be grateful for how much they do cram in, especially with two full albums to draw from now. Mark my words, by the time of the festivals, the crowd will have even the tongue-twister lyrics to Teddy Picker down pat. And the line, “Dorothy was right, though” (or “Dorofy was right, vo,” as Alex sings it) will be a communal cry. Can’t wait to see them at Glastonbury. On the telly.
A word about the venue: the Astoria, home to the Monkeys’ coming-out ball, may be historic for them, but it’s not a patch on Brixton – which, of course, they could have filled for at least a week – and standing towards the back downstairs, the sound was muddy and undynamic. Perhaps it sounded fuller upstairs, where I hope and assume people were having a better time than those on the guest balcony, who seemed immobile.
A word about the fans: are they becoming complacent about this band’s brilliance? Although fervour and beer met the old songs, it didn’t look half as mad and dangerous in the mosh pit tonight. We’ve been in the thick of the maeslstrom at the Sheffield Octagon and Brixton, and nothing like that seemed to be generated at the Astoria. Perhaps the real hardcore fans have moved away? Perhaps, due to the lottery system for ticket application, many of the hardcore simply didn’t get tickets. Either way, it’s a slightly diluted hysteria. Again, perhaps knowledge of the new songs will change all that once the album’s out. I’m really glad we went to pay our respects, and there’s little doubting the strength and variety of these dynamic new songs – nor the copper-bottomed classic status of the old ones. Arctic Monkeys really are an uncommonly gifted band, technically and creatively. If not yet in terms of showmanship. They began bang on time at 9pm – no showbiz fucking around for these young men – and with a plain backdrop, basic lighting and little in the way of repartee, they banged through 60 minutes of tight, singalong rock music, interrupted only by a green t-shirt thrown onto the stage, which landed over Alex’s mic. Not a night of surprises, but one free of bullshit. All hail.