Last week, Arctic Monkeys announced that they are set to make their live return next summer via a string of European festival dates and headline shows. The 11-date trek will mark the Sheffield gang’s first performances since early 2019, and all in support of a new album that is expected at some point in 2022. Rejoice!
Ever since the band conquered Reading Festival in 2005 with a raucous, tent-filling set, they’ve remained a world-beating live act for the past decade and a half. And, of course, they have made musical history along the way, topping the bill at Glastonbury twice and headlining countless other festivals across the world.
As we eagerly await the moment we can once again belt out the mighty intro to ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ in a field with mates, here are 10 of the most important festival sets of Arctic Monkeys’ career so far.
Reading Festival, 2005
At this point in their careers, Arctic Monkeys hadn’t put out any music besides some MySpace tunes and the unofficial, fan-distributed ‘Beneath The Boardwalk’ bootleg, but the Carling Stage saw twice its crowd capacity trying to elbow and squeeze their way into the tent before the band even hit the stage. This afternoon set may have only been eight songs long, but this was the moment when the boys became generation-defining superstars.
Best bit: A tent-shaking performance of the then-unreleased ‘When The Sun Goes Down’
Old Trafford, Manchester, 2007
In July 2007, Arctic Monkeys curated and headlined their first mini-festival: two nights of 50,000 fans at Old Trafford, supported by The Coral, Amy Winehouse, Supergrass and Beatles tribute act The Parrots. At the time, NME likened the sheer size and significance of this gig to Oasis’ record-breaking 1996 Knebworth shows. Yet the Monkeys chose to own the hype and rise to the occasion: they walked on stage to the Rocky theme, and then delivered a hit-stuffed set.
Best bit: When the crowd welcomed their favourite band to the stage with a massive riff singalong.
Lollapalooza Festival, Chicago, 2009
They’re cheeky Monkeys, these boys. In order to give the fans a behind-the-scenes view of the band’s transatlantic festival jaunt throughout summer 2009, drummer Matt Helders secretly filmed the backstage antics that took place at Lollapalooza. In an episode of his The View From… vlogs, he joked about needing “wristbands to have a piss [backstage]” and shared footage of crowd surfers. The video was an intimate welcome into the lives of an increasingly private band.
Best bit: The ear-deafening response to ‘Brianstorm’ suggested that the band had finally broken America
Reading Festival, 2009
As thousands of rowdy, booze-fuelled teenagers eagerly awaited a moshpit-starting opening to this headline set, Arctic Monkeys instead chose to deliver the opposite, opening with a low-key mashup of ‘My Propeller’ and a cover of Nick Cave’s ‘Red Right Hand’. What other band would have had the balls to wind up their fans? This unconventional choice paid off, however, as it acted as a warm-up for what would turn out to be a modestly ambitious live spectacle.
Best bit: Turner had another sneaky trick up his sleeve: he incorporated a dreamy rendition of Dion’s ‘Only You Know’ into ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’. Spectacular stuff.
Eurockéennes de Belfort, Malsaucy, 2011
When Arctic Monkeys had a French crowd in raptures singing along to the horror-infused ‘Pretty Visitors’, they performed alongside The Psychedelic Furs’ John Ashton, who contributed keys and his amazing guitar skills to several tracks on ‘Humbug’. They might have been world-famous musicians and festival veterans at this point, but the band looked delighted at the simple, unbridled joy that came with being on stage with their pal and collaborator.
Best bit: A fuzzy, sprawling, six-minute ‘505’. Throughout, the band were clearly having the time of their lives.
Glastonbury Festival, 2013
After a famously difficult, distant (read: poor weather, sound issues) and perhaps premature headline show at Glastonbury 2007, Arctic Monkeys returned to Worthy Farm six years later to deliver the most seminal and pivotal performance of their career. Accompanied by an orchestra, the band offered the mammoth Pyramid Stage show that they were always destined to play, but never quite reached the first time around. The ghost of 2007 was finally – and proudly – laid to rest.
Best bit: A pared-back performance of ‘Mardy Bum’, which featured an acoustic snippet of Oasis classic ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’. Pass the tissues, will you?
Austin City Limits, Texas, 2013
As he busted out comedy dance moves (think: flailing arms, two-stepping and a peacock-like strut) throughout a particularly funky ‘Knee Socks’ Turner was clearly in ‘embarrassing uncle at the wedding disco’ mode at this festival. Yet, somehow, he made his stage antics look effortless and (mildly) cool, playfully serenading his bandmates during ‘Pretty Visitors’ and storming through tracks from ‘AM’. No one could question the validity of the band taking the Friday night top spot.
Best bit: The extended outro to ‘R U Mine?’, which saw the band transition to real, untouchable rockstars.
iTunes Festival, London, 2013
For the Very Online stans amongst us, the band’s 2013 iTunes Festival performance at London’s legendary Roundhouse has, over the years, become meme fodder. Their 2011 appearance at the same festival was a slick operation that was recorded and released as an Apple-exclusive, six-track live EP. Two years later, however, Turner made a comical scene as he forgot the words to ‘505’ and guitarist Jamie Cook’s amp broke. Incredible scenes.
Best bit: The gorgeous live debut of ‘Fireside’, for which The Coral guitarist Bill Ryder-Jones made an appearance
TRNSMT Festival, Glasgow, 2018
At TRNSMT 2018, Arctic Monkeys… looked different. It was the piano, wasn’t it? Yes, to mark their only UK festival appearance of the year, the band eschewed some of their biggest anthems (RIP, ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’) in favour of ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’s lounge-pop dazzlers. And you know what? They were met with a wave of adoration from fans, and pulled off one of the best performances of their career. The new age of Arctic Monkeys had officially begun.
Best bit: 50,000 punters belting out ‘Star Treatment’s now-iconic refrain of ‘So who you gonna call?/The Martini Police”
Sziget Festival, Budapest, 2018
A final festival hurrah for 2018, Arctic Monkeys’ headline slot at Sziget wrapped up their triumphant run of shows throughout that summer. They brought the goldie oldies (‘From The Ritz To The Rubble’, ‘Teddy Picker’), a stunning, understated light show, and a sense of unshakable pride to the Óbuda Island. Turner even went as far as recycling old stage chatter: “We are the Arctic Monkeys from High Green, Sheffield!”, he shouted before ‘Brianstorm’. Enough said.
Best bit: The guest star, Turner’s then brand spanking-new crew cut. (We’re joking – it was the wickedly funny, Batman-themed intro to ‘Batphone’.)