Arctic Monkeys At The Apollo
Oh, that the Arctic Monkeys’ initial, awkward selves could see themselves now. A band as resolutely anti-fashionista as they were wildly brilliant, the prospect of Alex Turner exchanging in-jokes with Kelly Osbourne and mixing it at Whisky Mist just past album two was a lot less than thinkable. Hate to say we told you so, lads, but you’re almost as good at this rock star caper as you are at actual music. And now, you’ve got quite possibly the coolest man in London (© The Broadsheets), Richard Ayoade from The Mighty Boosh (and The IT Crowd and Nathan Barley) to direct this, your first-ever concert film, shot on the last night of your tour in Manchester and deemed a work of sufficient artistry to be premiered in real cinemas.
And there, readers, is the thing: Arctic Monkeys didn’t shun the spotlight, they stealthily carried out a gradual plan to bend it to their own shape. Sure enough, Arctic Monkeys At The Apollo stands as a testament to quite how far they’ve come. It’s just over three years since those thrillingly chaotic shows packed into tiny toilets, sheds and sitting rooms, fans’ sweat mixing with the band’s, their flesh pressing against each other’s T-shirts. Yeah, Manchester Apollo is a bit too big for that but, in what can only be a deliberate move, Ayoade ignores the crowd almost completely. They barely feature at all, and when they do it’s somewhere in the middle distance. Instead, cameras are dotted about the stage, intimately close to the band to catch them from every angle. It looks a lot more like a stage-managed TV performance than a concert film and is closest in spirit to the retro US-style video for ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’. When the screen begins to fracture into panels of different shots, whirling from splitscreen to the sheer kaleidoscopic it soon becomes obvious what he’s playing at. At points, cutaways of different members at skewed angles are laid over dead spce in the regular shot. Who’d have thought simple geometry could be such a crucial part of the rock’n’roll experience?
Such an artful approach might threaten to make it all feel a little detached, but that’s not a criticism. This is a story about change, and Arctic Monkeys have turned into something wildly different but no less thrilling. What they’ve become is a proper band, finally comfortable in their own skins and unafraid to strut around with celebrity girlfriends, as proper rock stars should. Indeed, Alex is the very picture of cool. Looking swish in a white sweater but with his innate surrealist edge fully intact, he delivers what’s close to a soliloquy after ‘Still Take You Home’, debating whether he should take the preppy jumper off or not. “I never normally would’ve left it on this long. I’ll play one more with it on and then we’ll review.” It takes three more songs for him to eventually make a decision.
The other undisputed star of the show – in terms of screen time at least – is Mr Matt Helders. The whole DVD kicks off with a slow panning camera directly behind him (‘Brianstorm’ serving as the introduction) and rarely stays off the pummelling powerhouse for long. Helders admitted he’d been weight-training way back at the start of the second album tour, so he would have a hope of keeping up. You can see why; it’s his drumming that fuels this whole fighting operation. At the start of ‘Leave Before The Lights Come On’, when the screen fractures into four Helders, it’s quite hypnotic, a ’90s Magic Eye picture gone jerk-rock.
It hardly needs saying that the songs are phenomenal to the very last beat because we knew that already. What is exciting is how the newer B-sides and extras hint towards where this band might go next, with the brittle ‘Nettles’ and the deranged funk chanting bristling across ‘Da Frame 2R’. It’s far beyond simple melody, and quite what they’re going to come up with together with Josh Homme at his studio in the Joshua Tree desert is too exciting to even contemplate. By the time of ‘A Certain Romance’ the cutaways increase, growing ever more intricate until they eventually give way to a simple cut-and-paste job of home movies illustrating their journey so far that feels genuinely moving. That’s where it should have ended, really – just as that’s how all Monkeys shows should always end. ‘The View From The Afternoon’ and ‘If You Were There, Beware’ feel a little tacked-on, as they did on the night. But that’s nit-picking; what you have here is both a testament to and a document of a unique band.An unusual and artful beast – and from Warp Films you’d expect nothing less.