Americans may not know what trackie bottoms are, but they sure know how to have a good time
Mark my words, dude, these guys are the next U2.” The baseball cap-wearing surfer next to NME is juggling two cups of beer and looking like he just came from a long day hanging 10 in Malibu.
We’re but two of the 2,000 fans packed into the stately Wiltern Theatre (a place more suited to baronial displays of piano pounding by, say, Nick Cave than scatter-gun rock’n’roll), all pumped up to see Sheffield’s finest.
Dressed drably in dark blue and black, and back-lit, with occasional strobes illuminating the dry ice billowing across their silhouettes, the band walk out, unassumingly, as if they’re only rehearsing, sliding innocuously into ‘Riot Van’. Call it coincidence, but ‘Riot Van’ makes an historically appropriate set-opener, since the Wiltern is located on the edge of Koreatown, a neighbourhood that burned during the infamous Rodney King riots of 1992 (back when Alex Turner was six years old). The song’s laconic sway is such that the chattering crowd appear barely aware that the band have begun their set. This dovetails neatly into Turner’s insolent greeting: “We’re Arctic Monkeys, ladies and gentlemen. From England. You’re Americans, and you don’t know how to stop talking. Or want to.”
Ah yes, America. Arctic Monkeys have had no trouble gaining traction in the US for one simple reason: they rock (Blur tried to crack the States for a decade before figuring out they needed a big, dumb rock song to do so). And the U2 thing isn’t completely daft: there are no Trabants onstage, but the way that drummer Matt Helders blasts into ‘When The Sun Goes Down’ showcases a sound not heard since Larry Mullen Jr wore short trousers. Because on this tour every song is grounded with a grinding metal riff. Guitarist Jamie Cook even goes so far as to wear shorts – the turned-up collar of Alex Turner’s Lacoste is what counts for sartorial smart in this band. But this, along with their regrettable name isn’t a bad thing: Arctic Monkeys are just uncool enough to be what favourite bands are all about over here. Beavis and Buttheads nationwide will love them.
While “trackie bottoms tucked in socks” means nothing in America, there is, in fact, a typical Stateside Arctic supporter: skinny black jeans, black T-shirt, shoulder-length hair in perfected state of Cobainesque dishevelment, madly pogo-ing down the front, inciting the ire of security. And they’re in good company – also pogo-ing in the moshpit is Meg White.
They drill through the tracks off the last EP, then go into ‘Perhaps Vampires Is A Bit Strong’ – its bongo interlude met by the scent of sticky green smoke wafting across the theatre footlights. Then someone chucks a “Get Well Andy” card onstage. Turner looks a bit sheepish as he picks it up (as if feeling guilty about replacing the rotund bass player with some foxy young rock guy) and shoots a grin in the direction of replacement Nick O’Malley, tonight struggling on manfully despite the bandaged hand. They get a huge reaction for ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’, but toss it off as if to say, “loads more where that came from.” Which there is. The band barely left the stage before rushing back and playing ‘A Certain Romance’.
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It really doesn’t matter that they’re not much to look at – the sheer intelligent assault of their songs compensate. “Someone tell Bono to look over his shoulder!”, yells the surf dude on the way out. He might be stoned, but he also might be right.