Arctic Monkeys’ seventh studio album – ‘The Car’ – was released last year to a mixture of sensational reviews and utter bewilderment. It’s carefully structured orchestral and jazzy stylings a fresh departure for some though seemingly too much for others. As a result, it was always going to be interesting to see how they brought in some of their most introspective and delicate songs to the biggest venues of their career. Turns out the answer is fairly simple – just play a couple of these new ones and fall back on your tried and tested rock n roll sing-a-long numbers for the rest.
This is not to say that tonight’s show is anchored solely within the mainstream demographic. Despite crowd favourites ‘Brianstorm’, ‘Snap Out of It’ and ‘Teddy Picker’ flying out of the blocks early doors this opening trio is about as straightforward ‘Monkeys’ as it gets. The band have changed – understandably so after nearly 20 years – and have morphed into a band expertly adept at changing pace and molding styles at all the right moments during the course of their set.
Of course, first of all their style is unabashedly rock n roll. For those first three songs, Turner keeps his aviator sunglasses on, foot quickly up onto the monitor out front. The crowd inevitably lap it up. But they are more than just that and the new approach to their records seems to have rubbed off on their back catalogue too. We get an almost louche version of ‘Arabella’ whilst ‘Mardy Bum’ – returning to the live set after a decade away – is slowed ever so slightly producing a sound that could be described almost as if the latest version of the band – all jazz disco and mid-tempo balladry – are covering their older material.
There’s a point in tonight’s show – about 6 or so songs in which this change in sound is made most apparent and it all seems to click. It’s where for the first time in the set Turner steps away from the guitar to sit down at the piano. His face is glorious close up on the big screen as he tilts his head down to the keys, the briefest of smiles glimpsed. Teasing a few notes like he’s 70s era Elton John about to wow a stadium in the middle of America or something. The Old Grey Whistle Stop style filter employed to the visuals provides an almost nostalgic effect to proceedings.
Having taken this collective breather, Turner quickly rises with microphone in hand and the band launch into ‘Why’d you always call me when you’re high?’ The tune is now more sultry and funkier than ever before. Working the stage, Turner has perfected the flicks and struts. The spiky guitar hero from the mid-noughties has transformed into a roguish, sexy rock troubadour who is part Jagger, part Jarvis. That old school filter on the big screen stage footage provides the final touch to his image of the timeless rockstar.
As the sun begins to set we get ‘The Car’s’ opener ‘They’d Better Be A Mirrorball’. Turner continues his old style crooner schtick as the stage designers tease us with an actual giant mirrorball sitting stationary up top until the final chorus sees it spinning slowly down, answering the song’s pleading statement in a moment of theatrical drama. Although limiting the number of new songs, it is ultimately one of these which provides the musical highlight of the evening. ‘Body Paint’ closes the set and is a triumph. Even more bold and lush then on record the band joyfully play out the song’s outro with a wall of guitar chords and feedback before exiting.
They return of course for an encore and one which succinctly highlights the different musical styles which make up the Arctic Monkeys’ live experience. The slow almost spoken word poetry of ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ before the obligatory ‘I Bet That You Look Good on the Dancefloor’ gets the fans up front a chance for one last pogo before the band finish with ‘R U Mine?’. This monster of a tune delivers an exhilarating finish to a masterclass performance and provides yet more evidence that the Monkeys’ metamorphosis into a rock n roll behemoth able to straddle a range of styles is finally complete.
Photos: Mark Butler