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 sex icon rockstars in Alex Turner.
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.
Though this new attitude seems on the face of it to be detached and out-of-touch with UK culture, their new music is testament to believing in your own creative vision. In a city that provides countless stages for grassroots talent to showcase their own idiosyncrasies, it was a blessing to have a band with international acclaim that continue to defy categorisation touch base with Bristol after so many years away.
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?
That fear was quelled almost instantly. 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 naive and wide-eyed 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 their vocal chords for a rapturous few minutes. The atmosphere was akin to that of a derby day against the Rovers, though the football stadium was united together in pure jubilation.
Turner barely said anything at all between songs, flying the plane with one hand and brandished with dark aviators, 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 opulence of Turner’s movement and persona made it seem like he was still lounging by the pool of Tranquility Base Hotel, 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 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 John Cooper Clarke's ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ saw all the couples embrace under the dark sky.
Without the need for any pyrotechnics such as we saw for The Killers at Ashton Gate last year, the heat was delivered as the band returned to the stage for the encore. After the brooding and apocalyptic new cut 'Sculptures of Anything Goes', they inevitably crashed 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 felt untouchable. It seemed to me a coronation of sorts, doing Elizabeth's slow wave to his adoring fans and rooting himself firmly part of music royalty.
The Car is out now. Arctic Monkeys' UK tour continues in Coventry, 31 May.
Featured Image: Zachary Michael / Black Arts PR
Have you seen the Arctic Monkeys live?