First Night: Arctic Monkeys, Rock City, Nottingham

Backlash or not, they still look good on the dancefloor
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The Independent Culture

"Bring on the backlash!" barks Arctic Monkeys' singer, Alex Turner, on their new EP. Such defensiveness has been a feature of the band in recent months, as a media frenzy, massive sales of their debut album, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, and grass-roots adulation have sent them hurtling through the looking glass, into a world of fame these Yorkshire youths were not prepared for.

The juggernaut has slowed at recent gigs in a suspicious America, while their previous UK shows saw them stunned by the attention, getting through them on numbed instinct and nerves.

None of this should obscure the Monkeys' creative and commercial achievement. Their songs of shabby sex, Saturday night excess and private, provincial dreams, represent one of British pop's periodic reconnections with the mundane wonder of ordinary life. The No 1 success of their euphorically punk debut single, "I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor", was, meanwhile, a guerrilla assault on a stale music business. This first UK headline tour of 2006 is a chance to restate those achievements, back among the young fans that fuelled them.

From the first spray of beer and aggressive roar at their appearance, it's clear that, in this rammed Nottingham club, the Arctic Monkeys are back among friends. "Riot Van", acoustically strummed by a hooded Turner, is sung word-for-word by the crowd, as is the ex-girlfriend put-down, "Mardy Bum". The likes of "View From The Afternoon", meanwhile, are a punched-up descendant of grunge, provoking po-going right to the back. In the sort of club space these songs were first written for, they all sound harder, heavier and tighter than in the large halls the band were perhaps prematurely promoted to, and struggled to conquer, last year.

The new EP, an encouraging indication that hype has not derailed Turners' muse, is liberally raided. One sign that their fanatical early audience is now more mainstream and passive comes from the relative silence that greets its title track, "Who The Fuck Are Arctic Monkeys?". This is the "backlash" song, and it finishes in a storm of brutish noise and reproachful words.

Any longueurs this might have briefly caused are then wiped away by "I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor". It's built on an artful, ascending riff and perceptively literate lyrics, and Turner spins on the spot as he plays guitar, and his song stops and starts on a dime. "When The Sun Goes Down", a typically sympathetic, sordid tale of a street-corner prostitute, is, if anything, sung with more feeling by the crowd.

By the closing ska shuffle of "Certain Romance", the Monkeys have thrown off the uncertainty and fear that seemed to haunt them last year. They are clambering on the speaker stacks, in a sweaty atmosphere heavy with celebratory, football- style chants. Musically, they are hardly reinventing the wheel. But for believers, the excitement is real.

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