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Review: Arctic Monkeys @ Ashton Gate Stadium

Waltzing back on stage in the UK for the first time since their cosmic exploration on Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino, the Monkeys stay true to their new nostalgic ambitions whilst never failing to delight the crowd with their all-time greatest hits.

By Jake Paterson, Co-Deputy Music Editor

With their 2013 album AM, the Arctic Monkeys had achieved everything that a band could possibly hope to achieve; headlining Glastonbury twice, having platinum selling records and leading the line with one of the last true rockstar sex icons. That record gave them the space to double down and take their time, able to put their creative vision entirely in their own hands with no one at Domino able to say no or point them in a certain direction.

The albums following on from then, 2018’s Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino and The Car which came out at the tail end of last year, have both taken the wide-lens approach to life; arranging songs to sound like a distant planet or unreachable decade lost to the past. Sonically exploring this territory has made the band generational; that they can sell out stadiums within minutes with material that muses on melancholy in the departure lounge is testament to their unending creative vision.

In anticipation for the show I was, however, apprehensive as to how the band could bring to life a track like ‘Perfect Sense’ and put it alongside ‘Brianstorm’ without having to shuffle off a ten-piece orchestra in the matter of a few seconds. This sentiment had extended throughout Monkeys fans, many of them not rocking up to shows to hear Alex Turner croon about his seventies muses but instead to relive their adolescence. How could some warp-speed chic captivate 30,000 Bristol punters?

It took for me to remember the lyrics to new single ‘Body Paint’ ("I’m keeping on my costume / And calling it a writing tool") to recognise Turner’s amorphous ability as a performer to play the role of generational rock star without compromising his style. The band didn’t fall back on the hits for the sake of it, but to interweave a self-indulgent set truly reflective of their journey so far; shifting gears between and during tracks.

As they came onstage with blue tint and distortion on the big screens to achieve an analogue film effect, no one in the crowd was expecting them to lead with ‘Mardy Bum’, having last played the track with a full band a decade before. The audience blew the lid off the place, with mosh pits from teenagers who were too young to see them live when the song was first released and smoke canisters somehow hidden from security let off within seconds. "Oh, I’m in trouble again, aren’t I?"; yes Alex, we were not expecting this.

The fast-paced hedonism pulsated through the stadium as the band thrashed through a span of eight songs without real pause. The moody ‘Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’ flew into the feverish ‘Brianstorm’, whilst ‘Teddy Picker’ and ‘The View From the Afternoon’ had everyone clutching their throats after straining the old vocal chords for a rapturous few minutes. Turner barely said anything at all between songs, flying the plane almost on autopilot before throwing in the occasional comment of which I noted: “Terrific, thank you, how kind you are”, “What a night” and “Been a real pleasure”. There was no need to provide the background to these songs; there’s almost no one in the UK who doesn’t have their own story behind one of the tracks from Favourite Worst Nightmare, so why provide us with the original story?

The great opulence of Turner’s movement and persona made it seem like he was still lounging by the pool of Tranquility Base, beamed down to earth for a few single moments to really feel himself in the groove of tracks like ‘Crying Lightning’ and ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’. Kicking the air, speaking with his hands and throwing back his long mane all pointed towards something theatrical and almost scripted if it weren’t for his intense ability to sell his image to absolutely everyone in the crowd.

He faltered only on the speed which he delivered some of the lyrics. He meandered his way through ‘Arabella’ and the emphatic ‘505’, seemingly given a creative licence to vocally noodle on the tracks by the rest of the band, and when they whipped out ‘Florescent Adolescent’ his timing made it almost challenging to scream along to. It didn’t quell the mood however, and both the lighters held up high and collective voices continued to fill the stadium.

When the sun came down, the mood shifted from fever to slow dance. As the unmistakeable drum beat and opening riff of ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ evaporated in the air, the tone was set for a huge mirrorball to be lowered appropriately for ‘There’d Better Be A Mirrorball’. A mass of phone cameras flew out when thousands of tiny reflected lights were cast over the crowd, and the new single somehow landed despite its slow and contemplative mood. The atmosphere was tender as ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ saw all the couples embrace under the dark sky.

Arctic Monkeys @ Ashton Gate Stadium | Jake Paterson

The set closed almost by formality as so much of the work had been done before the encore. Yet they inevitably came out to crash through ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’ and ‘R U Mine?’ so that no one could leave unsatisfied. As Turner lingered on stage at the very end, pointing and waving to the far reaches, he was captivating and attractive; part of the never-ending machine that is the Arctic Monkeys.

The Car is out now. Arctic Monkeys' UK tour continues in Coventry, 31 May.

Featured Image: Zachary Michael / Black Arts PR

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