Arctic Monkeys, Alexandra Palace, London

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The Independent Culture

The Arctic Monkeys are used to cavernous, remote venues such as Alexandra Palace now. Their vertiginous early success has settled down, progressing smoothly through this year's good-enough second album, Favourite Worst Nightmare. Tonight proves they have quietly and professionally sidestepped the hype to become an accomplished, unpredictable musical force.

"I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor" no longer dominates the set as it once did, but remains potent. The opening riff resembles a lift shooting to the top floor, kept there by guitars chopped at with comical speed. Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, and the songs played from it here, sound more certainly classic and more obviously separate from their imitators' slices of life.

Alex Turner is a poetic observer of the mundane, keeping a sympathetic distance from it. "A Certain Romance" strips Sheffield's nightlife of any such thing, while wishing for it with equal power. "When the Sun Goes Down" sees Turner sing its acid reportage of a "scummy man" and the prostitutes he pimps with fierce clarity. Its rhythm drives urgently forward, only to drop out, leaving this angry song's oddly turned phrases hanging suspended, a cappella, in the air.

"Romance" recurs in Turner's lexicon, expressed in part by the delicate, imaginative sounds with which his band pull clear of their peers: the trebly ripples of guitar on "Teddy Picker", or the unexpected shapes "Still Take You Home" is pulled into, before ending as a hardcore thrash. "Plastic Tramp", one of several B-sides and new songs, verges on the psychedelic, punctuated by choked feedback. Even "Fluorescent Adolescent", a warm, sexy pop song, slows to languidly reflective moments.

Turner is a far more relaxed front man now, but remains undemonstrative, contenting himself with a few dry lines to the crowd. After his lyrics, the Monkeys' trump card is a supple rhythm section. They hint at a lost pre-rock world of Telstar riffs and rockabilly twangs. Yet they can be heavy enough to inspire a massive mosh-pit.

But his band have kept their balance, staying true to their backgrounds, ambitious only for their music. Two years after their explosive arrival, they have secured their future.

NICK HASTED



Touring to 15 December (www.arcticmonkeys.com)

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