Last summer, when a sixth Arctic Monkeys LP was something universally anticipated and not the fanbase-dividing Rorschach test it ultimately turned out to be, the rumour going around the TRNSMT site was that Alex Turner & co. were going to make an unannounced live return at the festival. It didn’t come to pass, unfortunately, but they have made it this year – and for their only UK festival appearance of 2018, no less. The only question marks hanging over tonight’s set, in the wake of ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’, is how that record will sit next to the rest of the band’s back catalogue, and whether the myriad facets of Alex Turner’s personality – gobby urban troubadour, desert-rock maverick, snake-hipped seductor and now psychotic lounge lizard – can successfully coexist on the same stage.
The answer: easier than you might think. When Turner arrives onstage dressed in a Partridge-esque safari suit and slouches into ‘Four out of Five’, it’s a faintly ridiculous sight – and hardly a classic set-opener in the mould of ‘Do I Wanna Know? or ‘Brianstorm’ – but it does lay down a marker for what follows. ‘Tranquility Base’ clearly wasn’t written with occasions like this in mind, but Turner strives to make the songs like ‘One Point Perspective’ work by hamming them up and leaning into character, and by the time it’s over, you’re left wishing they’d played a few more of them.
The remainder of the set yields few surprises, but plenty of thrills. ‘Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’ – the only cut from 2011’s underrated ‘Suck It And See’ – is a formidable Stooges-esque slab of rock ’n’ roll menace, while mass singalongs to ‘The View From The Afternoon’ and ‘Teddy Picker’ swiftly atone for the cognitive dissonance of the set opener. Turner seems to be enjoying himself too, high-kicking his way through ‘Arabella’, swinging his legs during a playful ‘Knee Socks’, melodramatically strutting around the stage on the gorgeous ‘Cornerstone’, and taking on an increased amount of lead guitar duties from Jamie Cook.
What’s most notable, however, is the ease with which the band move through their various guises without it ever seeming uncomfortable or incongruous – their current iteration included. The band who wrote ‘From the Ritz to the Rubble’ is a very different band even from the one who wrote ‘Crying Lightning’, and light years removed from the one responsible for ‘Star Treatment’, yet it all somehow hangs together on the force of Turner’s personality and, yes, the strength of their tunes.
Some things, of course, remain sacred: ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ is still the band’s high watermark for crowd hysteria, and Miles Kane (who played earlier in the day) is again brought onstage for his by-now-customary, but largely inconsequential cameo on ‘505’. As the set comes to a close with the lascivious riffola of ‘R U Mine?’, much may have changed on Planet Monkeys, but thankfully, the most important stuff has stayed the same.
Arctic Monkeys played:
‘Four Out Of Five’
‘Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’
‘The View From The Afternoon’
‘Do Me A Favour’
‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’
‘Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino’
‘One Point Perspective’
‘Do I Wanna Know?’
‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’
‘From The Ritz To The Rubble’
‘R U Mine?’