Arctic Monkeys, Finsbury Park, gig review: 'The volume is lacking in oomph, but the dedication of the crowd is not in question'
Rob Hastings is Deputy News Editor at The Independent. He has served on the news desk since 2010, and also writes travel articles, music reviews and features. In 2015 he shortlisted for the Washington Post’s Laurence Stern Fellowship for a series on reportage features from Iran.
Saturday 24 May 2014
The backdrop design surely wasn’t meant to be ironic. But after the Arctic Monkeys are revealed to the crowd by the turn of a rotating stage, the massive light-up soundwave logo behind them - replicated from the front cover of their most recent album, AM - soon feels like a cheeky Sheffieldian slap in the face. If only the real soundwaves playing out to the thousands in Finsbury Park, as the opening riffs to ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ are cranked out, felt anything like as big and powerful. I’ve heard Vauxhall Corsas driving down the Seven Sisters Road playing music louder than this.
“It’s so quiet,” says the girl with dyed black hair to her floral jacketed boyfriend, barely needing to raise her voice to be heard as he nods his trilby hatted head. “It’s just as well I know all the words.”
She undoubtedly does, and most people around us do too. While the volume is lacking in oomph, the dedication of the Arctic Monkeys crowd should not be in question. It’s impressive that as the band has gradually developed over the years from indie scamps to graduates of a Queens of the Stone Age school of rock, they have brought their masses with them.
Amidst the distinctive smell of fireworks drifting through us from a red flare lit amongst the throng, as drunken lads and lasses push through to the front carrying their bottles of fruit cider and boxes of chicken and chips, there’s no shortage of people standing and glorying in the lyrics of Alex Turner.
And yet, when the quiffed Turner takes a rare decision to speak to us, asking if we’re going to have a good night together with him, the response is muted. We need more from him and his band, in such a big venue with an underwhelming sound system. Up on the big monochrome screens he appears to make a barely perceptible facial acknowledgement that things are somehow a little flat. And yet what does he do to address the problem? Very little, beyond simply playing the songs in that insouciant manner of his, sounding much as they do on the CDs.
‘Brianstorm’ comes along. So does ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’. And they’re fine. But is this what we spent all week, all night, looking forward to?
The refrain “Why’d you only call me when you’re high?” briefly re-unites the crowd, as a drug dealer tries to talk two teenage girls in front of us into buying something to gee them up. It feels like we could all do with some of it.
‘Knee Socks’ feels like the unexpected highlight of the evening, but just as things are picking up, the band are walking offstage a couple of songs later for their pre-encore interlude. The momentum is gone.
On my way home, walking past Yorkshiremen flogging T-shirts on the street, I hum "Mardy Bum" to myself - my, they didn’t even play it - and then remember I need to stop off and buy some dishwasher tablets. The sense of anticlimax hits home.
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