Live Review: Arctic Monkeys

Don Valley Bowl, Sheffield, June 10th

On a small patch of grass that sits right between the more convenient, ready-to-go settings of Don Valley Stadium and the Motorpoint Arena (both of which would have sold out in milliseconds) sits a 10,000-capacity big top. How very [a]Arctic Monkeys[/a] this all is: the stadium-filling band who would rather play in a freezing-cold tent it takes a week to put up, right next to the stadium. It’s the gig-playing equivalent of… oh, I dunno, making an album full to the brim with your most melodic tunes ever, then introducing it to the world with [b]‘Brick By Brick’[/b] and [b]‘Don’t Sit Down ’Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’[/b].

As local lads Dead Sons, then [a]The Vaccines[/a], then [a]Miles Kane[/a] – who later will get his moment in the sun as he joins his Shadow Puppets partner onstage to play the solo on ‘505’ – all come on and give it their crowd-pleasing all, four big screens project their every grin right to the back corners of this makeshift venue. Of course, when their Royal Contrarinesses appear, they’re reset to indecipherably blotchy, split-screen black and white, and suddenly seem to treat Cookie’s guitar pedals with the same reverence as Alex Turner’s face. Again, it’s all very [a]Arctic Monkeys[/a].

But whatever, it’s all working: in two days’ time, they will have succeeded where [a]Beady Eye[/a], [a]Elbow[/a], [a]Radiohead[/a] and others failed, scoring a Number One album while seeing off [a]Adele[/a]/[a]Lady Gaga[/a]. And also having played the two most triumphant, moving, downright brilliant shows of their entire career. All of which start with Hot Chocolate’s [b]‘You Sexy Thing’[/b] being played over the PA (Cookie’s idea, although he didn’t realise they were actually going to do it until he was stood side-of-stage), and a four-song onslaught that forgets [b]‘Humbug’[/b] or the new album ever happened. It’s exactly like the old days: frenetic, million-mile-an-hour riffs making the assembled throng shuffle like they’re at a drum’n’bass rave, every last “YOU KNOW NOTHING!” bellowed along in unison.

Still, 20 minutes or so in, when the first post-2007 tune arrives in the shape of [b]‘Don’t Sit Down…’[/b] it is greeted with a response that, if anything, is even louder, even more ecstatic. Clearly, the faithful don’t see it as the awkward red herring every review has called it: their arms are aloft, and their collective “Yeah yeah yeah”s are deafening. Same thing happens with the “I wanna rock’n’roll”s of ‘Brick By Brick’, and the “Sha-la-la la”s of ‘The Hellcat…’ with which, lest we forget, people have had only four days to make themselves familiar.

This said, it would be a lie to say the Monkeys’ most deadly weapons in this sort of settings aren’t still the songs from their debut. When they dust off [b]‘Mardy Bum’[/b] (albeit stripped down and drumless) for the first time in four years, there are gasps of disbelief and joy, while Alex barely has to sing a word. The same thing, of course, happens right after with ‘…Dancefloor’ and again at the start of the encore with [b]‘When The Sun Goes Down’[/b], and conclusive proof that they are comfortable now with their past comes when it transpires [b]‘A Certain Romance’[/b] is – following on from [b]‘Fluorescent Adolescent’[/b] – back in its rightful place as a grand finale. How, you wonder as everyone goes batshit crazy, can they have gone so long without playing this fucking song!?On another crowd-pleasing tip, it turns out the desert was a nice place to visit, but Arctic Monkeys wouldn’t want to live there.

Of 22 songs played tonight, only three are off [b]‘Humbug’[/b]: the relatively accessible [b]‘Crying Lightning’[/b] and [b]‘Cornerstone’[/b], plus [b]‘Pretty Visitors’[/b] (the latter, in fact, is the only moment tonight that falls slightly flat). Crucially, too, they look like they are enjoying all the old songs, not just doing them out of duty. Alex’s smile during [b]‘Mardy Bum’[/b] reminds you that no-one could ever get bored of having words you wrote sung back at you loudly by this many people. And just because you do, doesn’t mean everyone will think you’re trading on former glories or not moving forward.

Also, Arctic Monkeys, if you DO want to replace all the old crowd-pleasers with new ones, then – how to put this politely – for the love of God, WHAT ABOUT ACTUALLY PLAYING THE BEST SONGS OFF YOUR NEW ALBUM!? Being contrary is one thing, but to put out an album as good as [b]‘Suck It And See’[/b] and then not play its finest bits at the first show of its cycle, even by Monkeys standards, is bizarre. Maybe they’re waiting for the public to be fully acquainted with it. Let’s hope so because coming right after ‘…Dancefloor’, ‘She’s Thunderstorms’ sounds majestic; and ‘That’s Where You’re Wrong’ is as high a high as you’d expect from a tune that could easily hold its own on ‘The Stone Roses’. But the fact that none of [b]‘Black Treacle’[/b], [b]‘Reckless Serenade’[/b], [b]‘Piledriver Waltz’[/b], [b]‘Love Is A Laserquest’[/b] or the title track get an airing tonight is simply staggering. Especially when they bust out ‘Library Pictures’, the weakest moment on it, and a hangover from the ‘Let’s impress Josh!’ days.

But let’s not end on a negative note: tonight [a]Arctic Monkeys[/a] are brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, and seemingly more comfortable and confident in where they’ve been and where they’re going than ever before. All that devotion they inspired with the first album is still there, undulled, in front of them, and they’re now making a much better fist of making people dance their arses off while simultaneously being the loveably obtuse little fuckers they have to be. Once the lights go up, and the noise stops, it suddenly hits everyone how bitterly cold it is out here, in this strange little set-up right next door to the heated enormodome. But also that it was worth it, and proof that Arctic Monkeys should never do things any other way than their own.

Hamish MacBain