Still slipping out of people’s preconceptions, they’re sounding bigger and badder than ever. Highline Ballroom, New York, Monday, August 3
If there’s one thing that Arctic Monkeys have always done, it’s strive to distance themselves from other people’s perceptions. But their contrary nature now seems to have become a fully-fledged split personality. On initial listens, new album ‘Humbug’ seems an enigmatic entity, textured with sinister Morricone guitars and menacing basslines while Turner’s much-celebrated lyrics take frequent turns into the oblique. It’s a hit-free zone that’s destined to disappoint a few fans, and hints at a band trying to shy away from the monotony of the mainstream to do something more progressive and enriching.
When it comes to playing live, however, Arctic Monkeys both look and sound like they’re ready to be the world-shagging behemoth that they’ve always threatened to be. At the centre is Turner, who appears to have signed up for some evening classes at rock star school. The leather jacket soon gives way to a slinky vest and his long mane of hair is given free reign as the band scorch the stage with ‘Brianstorm’, ‘This House Is A Circus’ and the most instant cut off the new album, ‘Pretty Visitors’. The addition of The Last Shadow Puppets’ keyboard player John Ashton into the live line-up is something that helps to make the Monkeys sound colossal. It also occasionally frees Turner of his guitar and allows him to prowl the front of
the stage but, in truth, he seems uncomfortable without it; the transformation from indie-boy to rock icon isn’t quite complete.
Older songs such as ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ also throb and shine with the power of rejuvenation and their pulsating reworking of Nick Cave’s ‘Red Right Hand’ sounds evil. ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ undoubtedly remains one of the best singles of the decade and, if you don’t believe us, why not ask P Diddy? The hip-hop mogul declared himself to be the “newest member of the group” back in April and, if tonight is anything to go by, his role is to be their hype man. As the Monkeys’ first Number One kicks into top gear, Diddy descends from up on high in his VIP area to mosh in the pit with the best of them, all the time keeping his security guard close at hand… probably in case someone steps on his shoes.
The question is why they didn’t choose to capture this kind of prowess and power on ‘Humbug’. But these two clearly visible sides of the Arctic Monkeys only make their original mantra firmer than ever; whatever people say they are, that’s what they’re not. And it’s that pathological desire to avoid being boxed in that makes them as vital as ever.