Back in August, before headlining a distinctively urban V Festival, Alex Turner made the rather curious admission that he felt it was his duty to keep guitar music alive. Revealing that his band, Arctic Monkeys, released “Don’t Sit Down Because I Moved Your Chair” as a single because “it’s really guitar heavy [and] we’re one of the guitar bands that have a shot at getting on the radio in the daytime, I feel like it’s our job to put that sort of tune out”.
Turner finished the interview by explaining that Arctic Monkeys were headlining V, not because they particularly cared for the festival or because they fitted in on the line up, but instead to ensure that guitar music remained a relevant part of mainstream culture.
The interview proved a real head scratcher, in part because Turner has always shied away from presenting himself, or his band, as the outspoken leaders of rock’s current generation, but largely because the Monkeys have continued to drift away from the spikey guitar driven rock of their multi-platinum debut Whatever People Say I Am That Is What I Am Not.
2011 finds the Arctic Monkeys at a cross roads; still creating number one albums, and still selling out arenas, but migrating sonically towards more intricate songwriting, more lucid textures, and in the direction of softer ballads and careening pop songs. The unfortunate by-product of this evolution in sound is a disparate and disjointed feel to the band’s live shows, making the Monkeys’ 2010 tour dates notoriously choppy as they were plagued by inconsistent pacing.
However, if tonight’s date at London’s O2 Arena is anything to go by, the Monkeys appear to have stumbled upon the perfect live formula, capable of simultaneously bridging the gap between Whatever… and Humbug while positioning the band as guitar rock’s latest champion.
Every aspect of their show has been ferociously beefed up, “Don’t Sit Down…” and “Crying Lightening” are thick and soupy, they buzz and ooze unsettling distortion as they stagger and lurch through their own ominously textured murk. “I Bet That You Look Good On The Dance Floor” and “A View From The Afternoon” are blitzkrieg pop bullets that have Turner flinging himself from Matt Helder’s drum kit before venomously spitting out each besotted syllable atop guitar lines which saw and scythe with a renewed sense of freedom and menace. While “Brianstorm”, Arctic Monkey’s customary party starter, is less a joyous jaunt and more a primal pummelling, exchanging the track’s chummy nonchalant put downs for a sardonic cutting sneer.
The results are suitably explosive; the notorious sterility of the anti-septic O2 arena is quickly cast aside as the crowd is transformed into a seething mass of flailing arms, flying pint glasses and manic crowd surges. As the anarchy unfolds before your eyes it becomes almost unfathomable to think that just five days earlier this arena played host to legions of politely seated Cliff Richard fans.
It becomes a genuine delight to see the Arctic Monkeys taking hold of such an audience, filling a cavernous arena with sound on their own terms, without resorting to the slick sheen, minimal riffage, and board brush stroke aesthetics that have become almost cliché in the wake of U2 and Coldplay’s ascent. Instead, the Monkeys set about proving that the wild discord of abrupt indie pop is fully capable of playing to the back rows of 20,000 strong arenas.
The secret to their success lays in the fullness of Matt Helder’s skins, the percussion rumbles and jolts deliciously, consuming everything in its wake in one thundering tribal onslaught. There’s a vitality to his attack that imbues even the Monkey’s most gentile material with a sense of imposing scope, as “Florescent Adolescent” and “Teddy Picker” tumultuously ring out. Turner for his part remains absolutely locked in on rhythm, allowing Cook’s lead the freedom to squeal with a soaring sense of spontaneity.
The Monkeys may be thrillingly raucous and crushingly loud, but this in no way means that they’ve forgone subtlety as the set is still rife with touching moments. “Hellcat Spangled Shalalala” remains a salaciously enticing gem of a pop song while “Suck It And See’s” chorus is allowed to sway and swoon, revelling in its own delicately mellifluous understatement.
“Do Me A Favour” proves a surprise set stealer, as Turner’s croon forces it’s way above the band’s sinister burbling backdrop. A real sense of tension is fostered; the quiet / loud dynamic is continually teased, as the audience is keenly aware that at any moment the Monkeys could unleash hell. They duly do of course, gifting even their most tender material suitable seismic crescendos.
Turner, who once appeared content to bury his head and stare at his shoes while his band fired their way through sets at rapid pace, is finally showing signs of evolving into a stadium sized front man. The sardonic jabs are still there of course, he introduces “Brick By Brick” by drolly stating “Whether you love it, or you hate it, you’re wrong”, but Turner now wears a broad smile as he leads the crowd in cheering games, allowing them to take crucial verses and punchlines in “When The Sun Goes Down” and “Teddy Picker”.
The band’s new stadium sized ambitions truly come to the fore during the night’s encore. “Mardy Bum”, freshly returned to the setlist, is stripped down to its bare essentials and slowed considerably, allowing Turner to conduct a 20,000 strong sing along. It’s the kind of trick that the Turner of old would have ridiculed and run from, but he now appears happy enough to indulge and even embrace some showbiz smultz.
“505” closes proceedings, as it has done since 2007, but this timeless set staple feels reinvigorated as the solemn longing of the verse is contrasted with one final explosive blast of visceral fury, that sends the crowd home both bouncing and crooning in unison. It’s a symbolic gesture. The divergent themes have, by the nights end, completely entwined; the understated considered soul and the primal live-for-the-minute thrills, perfectly united in one sixty second finale, and one sensational ninety minute set.
Hampered by ill health, but never ones to retire shyly, The Who continue celebrating their 50th anniversary as they contemplate retirement.
Guitar Planet grades the creative comebacks from three iconic artists who are attempting to give 2015 a much-needed injection of impetus.
Guitar Planet takes on new albums by southern stars Blackberry Smoke, nu-metal icons Papa Roach and the legendary Venom.
The music industry’s glamorous state of the union address was delivered this weekend, but what did the Grammys have to say about guitar music?
Enter Shikari renew their archly political assault while expanding their sonic horizons on The Mindsweep.