The new album may have confused some, but live they still hit hard. Zenith, Paris, Thursday, November 5
Of all weapons in the music hack’s dubious arsenal, the Acme missile marked ‘Failure To Rock’ is perhaps most tedious of all. Call it the ‘Kid A’ effect, if you will. Radiohead’s opus was greeted like a slap in the face by many on its appearance in 2000, critics bemoaning its refusal
to engage with public expectation of the band as stadium rock panacea for our atomised times.
Arctic Monkeys were held to account in these pages for their performance at Reading 2006, charged with the cardinal sin of not being “the rock stars they’ve actually earned the right to be”. Said piece suggested they consider becoming more like Muse. You know, with fireworks and stuff: a proper rock band.
With the moody, compelling ‘Humbug’, Alex Turner’s crew have moved beyond the dispiriting arena of action and reaction, into a zone where they’re allowed to exist simply as an excellent band, guided by sure-footed artistic vision. And nowhere is this more apparent than in their live performances.
Chatty they ain’t (the odd, comically intoned “merci beaucoup” from Turner stands in lieu of banter), but musically the band know exactly when to hit hard, and when to set proceedings to a slow simmer. ‘Dance Little Liar’ leads from the front – a woozily narcotic gem with more than a touch of producer Josh Homme’s heavy-lidded psych about it – and segues directly into a frantic ‘Brianstorm’.
‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ still jerks and thrusts like teenage hips, but it’s the new stuff that keeps this vital; tracks as beguilingly off-centre as ‘My Propeller’ and ‘Sketchead’ showcasing a growing penchant for knotty, abstract structures over the quick-fix riffs of days gone by.
It’s not all hard work, though: ‘Secret Door’’s blissful coda is given an extended airing that sees confetti shot spectacularly over the arena’s lofty confines. But that’s not all, folks: the encore takes in ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ and a triumphant ‘505’. Somewhere between rock and a hard place, then, but the Arctics’ is a journey worth taking.