The new fab four let the music speak for itself – but it’s so good they’re still the talk of their hometown
Confronted with their success, most bands would be so gakked out of their minds on crystal opium refined by velvet farm maidens from Mount Olympus’ own plantations by this point that they’d be strutting atop their solid gold Easter Island house, screaming “I am the god of sex” at their staff below. But are the Monkeys so convinced of their own brilliance? Sullen, doe-eyed frontman says: “No”.
Tonight at least, it’s pretty clear what Sheffield thinks. Sheffield thinks they’re pretty fucking fantastic. Sheffield thinks they’re better than a Superman sandwich. Yes, from the fanboys in tears at the front to Richard Hawley calmly chain-smoking at the back, Sheffield knows exactly what Arctic Monkeys are – they’re their boys, their heroes, their fucking neighbours.
So, as this proud, paternal crowd elbows its way into the venue, drinks the bar dry and fills the room with fake tales of being with Turner and crew, it’s a fair assumption that these people know what they’re getting with a Monkeys gig – about two dozen or so of the best pop songs ever constructed, all performed with the charisma of a cup of warm milk. Not that it matters of course, this band could be peeling skin from infirm grannies for kicks and Sheffield would still pat them on the back. So, as Alex, Matt, Nick and Jamie walk onto the stage to a vaudevillian backing track no-one cares that their eyes scarcely leave the floorboards.
If anyone was hoping that the thrill of the homecoming gig would usher in a Ziggy Stardust-style reinvention of their surly selves into tarty performers, the band crush them swiftly by opening with ‘If You Found This It’s Probably Too Late’ – a brief, bruising rock track which isn’t even on the new album.
As they burst into Number Two smash hit (British public, hold your heads in shame) ‘Brianstorm’, the crowd fly into violent sweats. But even here Matt Helders’ well endowed drum thunder and Alex’s wordy insouciance are delivered with all the drama and frivolity of double-glazing. And you know what? It’s all the better for it. This is 2007, not 1957. The idea that anyone can change the world, or even pop music by wiggling their hips or calling for revolution onstage is as over as footless tights.
Right now, pompous showmanship is not in short supply; sincerity though? That is, and will always be. While Gerard Way is dressing like a character from The Nightmare Before Christmas and firing glitter cannons at eight-year-olds, Johnny Borrell is waxing his corrugated chest for the FM hoards and Matt Bellamy is melting the ozone with his flat-pack aurora borealis, Arctic Monkeys are making a stand. This band are bringing dignity and reality back into the public domain and their public are screaming for more.
It takes over 30 minutes for Alex to even acknowledge his crowd, but it’s clear as they charge through the rocket-powered ‘Dancing Shoes’ and into a tongue flaying of ‘From The Ritz To The Rubble’ and through to the smouldering ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ that these people aren’t here to rub themselves on the Arctic altar, they’re here for the songs. And what songs they are. ‘Do Me A Favour’ is the soundtrack to the untold Steel City chapter of Pulp Fiction, while ‘Teddy Picker’ has already unveiled itself as a tuxedo-wearing anthem. Best though is their encore, the glorious future Glasto-slayer ‘505’. “In my imagination you’re lying waiting on your side/With your hands between your thighs”, sighs Alex with the grace and composure of a less misanthropic Morrissey.
As our world of ignorant, self-defined individuals scream for attention while molten icebergs lap at their feet, Arctic Monkeys are true heroes. You may be onstage, you may be in a wildly successful band, you may be a generation’s pop laureate, but all of that is what the point is not. The point is that Sheffield, Britain and the whole world loves Arctic Monkeys for refusing to patronise their audience by dressing up their music as light entertainment.