First Night: Arctic Monkeys, O2 Academy, Brixton, London
Arctics return from wilderness with horizons broadened
Thursday 27 August 2009
Arctic Monkeys played their first UK show in two years last night with an ease confirming their special status. With Blur seemingly re-retired, and Radiohead these days floating above normal rock rules of engagement, they are the most respected UK band still standing.
Barely three years ago, they were either dismissed as a MySpace-bred fad, or praised as chroniclers of their Sheffield hometown's seedy but vibrant life. They recovered from that fame's early shock to become a remarkably dextrous rock band. Their singer-songwriter Alex Turner, too, always a cool-eyed observer of street-life, wasn't phased by no longer living it.
Second album Favourite Worst Nightmare and his subsequent side-project Last Shadow Puppets smoothly moved into moodier, more mysterious terrain. New album Humbug, partly recorded with Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme as producer, has been wrongly typed as a switch to harder, more American rock. In fact it's a continuing evolution into pop and lyrical classicism, where Hendrix meets forgotten Yorkshire folk satirist Jake Thackray as influences, in an elegant 21st-century version of Cream's "White Room". It's a long but steady course from the "mardy bums" and "scummy men" of their street-wise debut; progress maintained tonight.
A dramatically sudden entrance soon leads into Nick Cave's "Red Right Hand", the diabolic fantasies of which are playfully approached. You'd never mistake the floppy-haired Turner, in his smart-casual short-sleeved shirt, for Nick Cave, much less Old Nick. Any demons he has stay private. It's his calmness on stage, his lack of star presence or messianic pretension, which keeps his band usefully anonymous. Even his relationship with the glamorous TV presenter Alexa Chung can't draw the paparazzi's glare. When he shakes his long locks as he cuts loose on guitar, it's a shock.
It's left to the exact dynamics, thunderous riffs and tumbledown energy of the songs to purge his and the crowd's frustrations. Reversing through the three Arctics albums with "Crying Lightning", "Brianstorm" and "Still Take You Home", breathless precision unites them. Breakthrough hit "I Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor" is sung by the crowd and seized as their own, lost in its precocious lyrics, and a riff tough and tight enough to kick-start a career.
The dusty psychedelic expansiveness of at least one new song, "Dangerous Animals", bares the influence of Josh Homme's American desert-rock. In a set boldly dominated by Humbug – only heard by most here since its Monday release – "The View From the Afternoon", from their debut, is then greeted with relief. I too start to miss the precise, humane observation Turner mostly veils these days. As if in answer, Humbug's best song "Cornerstone" follows, exuding all the old storytelling warmth. Then there's the Hawaiian guitar of "Only Ones Who Know", and cinema-style organ in "Fluorescent Adolescent" which might have closed a Mecca ballroom in 1962, and the Arctic Monkeys have re-found their balance: a mixture of The Shadows, Pulp and Pearl Jam, made in Sheffield, but increasingly beyond time and place.
BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital moveTV
Final Top Gear reviewTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Autistic teenager beaten up by bullies makes them watch 20-minute video about autism
- 2 Nick Kyrgios calls former Olympian Dawn Fraser a 'blatant racist' after she tells Wimbledon star to 'go back where their parents came from'
- 3 World learns of app that shows you who unfriended you on Facebook, app promptly crashes
- 4 Chris Moyles reportedly set to make radio comeback with new breakfast show on XFM
- 5 The Greece debt crisis explained in less than 100 words
Game of Thrones season 6: Daenerys actress Emilia Clarke says '50/50 chance' Jon Snow is alive
Chronixx interview: Reggae sensation on taking the opening spot at Glastonbury and calling Barack Obama a 'waste man'
Game of Thrones season 6: Director Jack Bender says showrunners 'communicate closely' with George RR Martin
Top Gear: Jeremy Clarkson 'can't front ITV motoring show' due to BBC contract clause
Amy Winehouse film: Mark Ronson praises 'respectful' movie as it scores highest ever UK opening for British documentary
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
Sickness and disability benefits could be reduced by £30 a week as part of £12bn welfare cuts