Arctic Monkeys kicked off their UK tour this week after a phenomenal year that's seen them headline Glastonbury, release career highlight 'AM' and basically become the biggest band in the world. I went to see them last night in Manchester and this is what I learnt.
THEIR BACK CATALOGUE IS NOW OFFICIALLY RIDICULOUS
The Monkeys’ set runs to about an eighty minutes at the moment, which is par for the course on a tour like this. If they wanted to, however, they could play for a lot longer and not even come close to to scraping the bottom of the barrel. Tonight they omit a number-one single (‘When The Sun Goes Down’), a song widely-regarded as being among their best (‘A Certain Romance’), any number of live favourites (‘The View From The Afternoon’, ‘505’, ‘The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala’), and at least one potential future single (‘Knee Socks’). You won’t walk away feeling short-changed - on the contrary, I only noticed the absence of most of those tunes when I looked back over the setlist afterwards - but you do sense that they’re rapidly approaching the point where standard gig lengths just won’t suffice.
‘SUCK IT AND SEE’ IS THEIR ODD ALBUM OUT
Much as I love it (I awarded it 9/10 in this very magazine), it’s becoming increasingly obvious that ‘Suck It And See’, not ‘Humbug’, is the sore thumb of the band’s discography. It doesn’t get much love tonight, with only two songs - ‘Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’ and ‘Reckless Serenade’ - making the cut, and even those are somewhat cooly-received. It’s a shame, but it’s understandable: there’s a clear musical link between ‘Humbug’ and ‘AM’, but neither of those records have much in common with SIAS’s jangling indie classicism. For the life of me, however, I’ll never understand why ‘That’s Where You’re Wrong’ isn’t one of their biggest tunes.
‘R U MINE?’ IS THEIR GREATEST WORK
Everything’s subjective, of course, but we can all agree on this, can’t we? One of the things you notice watching the Monkeys these days is how crude and rudimentary many of the older songs sound compared to the newer ones: ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ is still a blast, but unless you’re one of those people who thinks Alex Turner lost it when he stopped writing about chip shops, it’s nowhere close to being the highlight of the set. That honour goes to the dextrous, devastating ‘R U Mine?’, which everyone goes legitimately mental for.
ALEX IS STILL DETERMINED TO MAKE THIS ‘FRONTMAN’ THING WORK
He’s toned down the Elvis mannerisms a touch, but Turner is still hamming it up big-time, from his slightly-cheesy between-song segues (“It’s ‘Crying Lightning’, baby!”, “This one’s for all the girls - I mean... this one’s for all the ladiezzz!”, etc) to the handful of moments where he downs his guitar and starts throwing Nick Cave-esque shapes to ‘Arabella’ and ‘Pretty Visitors’. It’s still a work in progress, but think back to close-mouthed urchin of 2005 who communicated in grunts and shrugs and marvel at how far he’s come.
PEOPLE HAVE TAKEN TO ‘AM’ IN A BIG, BIG WAY
It’s still early days in the ‘AM’ cycle - it’s been out for little more than a month - but on last night’s evidence, people certainly seem to have embraced the new songs wholeheartedly, particularly ‘Snap Out Of It’ and ‘One For The Road’. When I spoke to the band before the gig, they told me that they had the entire album rehearsed and ready to play at the drop of a hat (in a 21-song set, they end up playing nine of the album’s twelve tracks) and the fact that they’re confident enough in these songs to start phasing out longtime live staples in favour of them suggests that they could be fixtures of the setlist for years to come.