Alex Turner offered a rare bit of banter to introduce the final song of the Arctic Monkeys’ main set. “This one’s from 2005,” said the frontman. “It’s called ‘I Bet That You Look Good On the Dancefloor’.” It was one of just two songs lifted from the band’s breakthrough LP and predictably triggered a surge of wall-slamming intensity from the packed arena crowd.
Arctic Monkeys have shifted course multiple times since 2005’s Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not and the dynamic setlist displayed the benefits of such manoeuvring. However, there remains a bunch of disgruntled fans intent on reminding the rest of us that the Sheffield band used to sound different. And not only have they changed, but they’re now shithouse. A pile of crumbs.
These fans no doubt felt a sense of betrayal in the face of the lighter-waving perverted love song, ‘Cornerstone’, and the adroit, Scott Walker-aping, ‘Science Fiction’, appalled by the band’s failure to continually relive the 2005 heyday of drunk texting and arguing with bouncers.
It always feels odd to speak of a band’s maturation – it seems to connote getting boring – but Turner, drummer Matt Helders, guitarist Jamie Cook and bass player Nick O’Malley have long been committed to growth and digression. They’re here off the back of last year’s divisive Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, a brazen pitch to be taken seriously as artists rather just a bunch of Northern lads vying to save rock’n’roll.
The set design indicated we’d be getting a Tranquility Base showcase. The stage was set up to resemble the lounge of the fictional lunar hotel complex. Three touring musicians joined Helders atop an off-white riser, while a hexagonal lighting console hovered above the band. Two large video screens flanked the stage, with the grainy live footage representing an outer space transmission.
They opened with Tranquility Base single ‘Four Out of Five’ and the rife confusion that accompanied the album’s release seemed to entirely dissipate. The band looked at home in their microcosm and the sound, rooted in O’Malley’s rubbery ’60s bass tone, was fucking fantastic. Turner hasn’t yet incorporated any Nick Cave dance moves or gained a fondness for crowd surfing, but he’s adjusted to the role of swaggering frontperson with aplomb.
A total of five Tranquility Base songs featured, but this was a rock show, make no bones about it. Humbug’s ‘Pretty Visitors’ and Suck It and See’s ‘Library Pictures’ might’ve appeared curious setlist inclusions on paper. But both are genuinely heavy and bewilderingly dynamic, allowing the band to exert maximum force and make this whole sold-out arena caper feel a little less bizarre.
The consistently wrapt reaction made it difficult to discern which of the band’s six records is the consensus fan favourite. AM’s ‘Snap Out Of It’ set bodies in motion from the get-go, likewise ‘Arabella’ which saw Turner sauntering around the stage and playing the role of rock’n’roll sex god. As Favourite Worst Nightmare’s ‘505’ reached its crescendo, the room furiously squeezed onto 2007 nostalgia. This sensation was even more pronounced during Whatever People Say I Am’s ‘Dancing Shoes’.
A few songs missed the mark. ‘Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’ is a loud silly rock song, but its impact quickly wore off. The sleazy, falsetto-heavy ‘Knee Socks’ is a nice genre experiment, but failed to set the room alight.
The biggest reaction came for the song most suited to the arena context. ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ is the Arctic Monkeys’ ‘Seven Nation Army’. A riff-wielding, bop-inducing rumination on one’s chances of getting busy. It’s fun and a bit embarrassing and perhaps the best summation of what the Arctic Monkeys offer that no other mainstream rock band of their generation does.
Turner’s not lacking in bravado and is clearly a determined aesthete, but he’s always conveyed a sense of earnestness. It’s routine for the Arctic Monkeys to play to crowds in the tens of thousands, but their application tonight was unflinching. Akin to the progression shown on Tranquility Base, their performance was fuelled by the intention of making a lasting impression. And they succeeded.