In partnership with Sziget Festival
The setlists have been career-spanning wonders, but Arctic Monkeys’ slew of comeback shows have been just as much about what they’re not playing. The rumour mill is abuzz with word of an imminent seventh album, but as they take to the Sziget stage to the strains of Francis Monkman’s ‘Taken’, closing out an impressive six-night bill that had previously featured headliners including Kings Of Leon, Justin Bieber, Tame Impala and Dua Lipa, they kept any new material tightly under wraps.
Instead, discarding both the lounge rocker look of pre-pandemic tours for a more casual indie gang aesthetic, they deliver a show giving every corner of their catalogue equal respect, and highlighting what a phenomenally imaginative and uncategorisable band they’ve become.
In a switch from the more mid-paced opening of recent shows, a hi-octane Monkeys throw themselves straight into early favourite ‘The View From The Afternoon’, and at first look like the noughties indie stormers reborn. “Who let all these people in my room?” Alex asks before a similarly breakneck ‘Brianstorm’, and he drops similarly bizarre comments into the pauses: “flat head screwdriver,” he declares, “that’s my nickname.”
Following this frantic opening, the band begin navigating the wild swerves that have made their career path so exciting to follow. ‘Snap Out Of It’ brings more of a leisurely Britpop-gone-soul swing to proceedings and ‘Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’ and a snarling ‘Crying Lightning’ soon settle Sziget into a grinding desert rock noir groove. ‘Teddy Picker’ and ‘Pretty Visitors’ – Alex declaring “shiver me timbers!” as its demented carnival mania subsides – provide a burst of adrenaline in an early set headed for the snaking indie soul of ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’ (“riddle me this…” Alex grins) and ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’, delivered by Turner in shades now, roaming the stage like a Vegas showman. “I’m getting quite hot and bothered,” he admits as he sheds his brown leather jacket for ‘Arabella’, marrying power rock riffs to sparse R&B.
The sprawling ‘Humbug’ deep-cut ‘Poison Aproaching’ – part grunge mess, part glam sleaze – gives way to more low-slung grooves in the form of ‘One For The Road’ before Alex indulges his inner blue-eyed ‘50s crooner on a magnificent ‘Cornerstone’, drenched in Jamie Cook’s aqueous hula guitar. Then Sziget’s phones go up for the beastly funk of ‘Do I Wanna Know?’, and from there the set takes a twist for the sophisticated. ‘Do Me A Favour’ and ‘Knee Socks’ delve into Lynchian surf darkness with touches of haunted Motown, ‘One Point Perspective’ wonderfully evokes ‘60s ballroom rock’n’roll – complete with Alex customarily losing his train of thought at the end – and ‘505’ ends the main set in a bounce-along blitz of explosive retro-rock.
“Thanks everybody, got a couple more for you,” Alex drawls as the Monkeys return for the encore and launch into a stirring ‘No. 1 Party Anthem’ – reminiscent of Lennon’s later ‘50s homages – and an Arctic Monkeys-branded glitterball spins shards of light across the crowd. After such a strange, intoxicating journey, big hits almost seem too obvious, but ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ is met with a shirt-flinging reception and when Alex semi-sings “I’ve just got one more question before we hit the road” ahead of a celebratory final ‘R U Mine?’, and Sziget responds dramatically in the affirmative. The band’s current set might not be offering clues as to their future direction of travel, but as a story-so-far recap of one of music’s most inspired careers, it makes us happy to be trussed up blindfold in the back of their van.