Subbotnik Festival

Moscow, 6 July 2013

“One of the great laws of war is ‘Never invade Russia’,” as the probably apocryphal Field Marshal Montgomery line goes. It stands as pretty solid advice. Still, that didn’t deter Arctic Monkeys, Hurts, Foals, Jessie Ware and Savages from launching a British invasion of their own this summer, braving 30°C temperatures for the inaugural Subbotnik festival in Gorky Park, in the centre of Moscow.

Before the British, though, there was time for a handful of local acts, including one whose name brilliantly translates as ‘130 miles in the opposite direction on an old Vespa’. The highlight, though, was Motorama, whose set drew heavily from 2012’s excellent, Joy Division-inspired album ‘Calendar’. That they managed to create an atmosphere of hypnotic melancholy even in the midday sun was some feat. Joining them in the perhaps ill-advised sartorial decision to wear just black were Savages, who didn’t let their early slot dampen their ferocious live show. ‘Silence Yourself’ remains one of the year’s most impressive debut records, and in Moscow they proved that their live show measures up.

Jessie Ware, Foals and Hurts all turned in festival-honed sets, with the latter’s cover of Björk’s ‘Army Of Me’ a standout moment, but the day really belonged to the Arctic Monkeys. Much has been made this summer of the band’s maturation into artists who are fulfilling their early promise, and this was a masterclass in grown-up rock’n’roll. From the moment the opening crunching riff of opener and ‘AM’ single ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ sounded out over Moscow, they looked no more likely to put a foot wrong than Alex Turner did of getting a hair out of place in his immaculately coiffured quiff.

Although the band have evolved substantially from the cocky youths who set Britain alight back in 2006, they’re not afraid to go back to their juvenilia and a quarter of tonight’ set is drawn from debut LP ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’. It’s all a bit much for at least one fan, who flails around almost uncontrollably while his girlfriend nervously films him for posterity. It’s the band’s first ever show in Russia, as Turner frequently reminds the audience, but the Russian crowd is fully enraptured long before he asks them, before the last song before the encore: “Moscow… ‘R U Mine?’”

The first song after they reappear is an acoustic-led version of ‘Cornerstone’ which might just be the night’s highlight. Its lovelorn lyrics showcase Turner’s gift for a well-observed tale, with gems like: “I elongated my lift home / Yeah I let him go the long way round / I smelt your scent on the seat belt / And kept my shortcuts to myself.” After a gorgeous version of ‘Mardy Bum’ and a thrilling ‘When The Sun Goes Down’, the final ‘505’ feels like a slightly underwhelming closer, but then you wouldn’t expect this band on this form to choose the easy way out. If he’d been stood in Gorky Park tonight, even Field Marshal Montgomery would have pulled on his dancing shoes.

Arctic Monkeys setlist:

‘Do I Wanna Know?’
‘Brianstorm’
‘Dancing Shoes’
‘Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair’
‘Teddy Picker’
‘Crying Lightning’
‘Brick by Brick’
‘Fake Tales of San Francisco’
‘She's Thunderstorms’
‘Old Yellow Bricks’
‘Pretty Visitors’
‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’
‘Do Me a Favour’
‘Evil Twin’
‘Fluorescent Adolescent’
‘R U Mine?’

‘Cornerstone’
‘Mardy Bum’
‘When the Sun Goes Down’
‘505’

Kevin EG Perry

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