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REVIEW: The last great guitar band?

REVIEW: The last great guitar band?

Friday 13 October 2023

REVIEW: The last great guitar band?

Friday 13 October 2023

20-year-old Jules Upson reviews the Arctic Monkeys after they played Coventry's Building Society Arena:

According to the official programme of their 2023 UK & Ireland tour, Arctic Monkeys are the UK’s best and most vital band.

Now self-styling themselves in terms of The Beatles, the band’s last leg of their global tour, in collaboration with The Big Issue, feels like a victory lap. Although the slower, more contemplative feel of their new material has divided audiences, they justifiably remain the UK’s band-to-watch.

Perhaps it was just the lethargy of concert-goers swapping work for a mid-week gig, but it initially felt as if something strange was in the air. Nonetheless, the anticipation increased with the supporting acts The Mysterines and The Hives. The latter’s wild frontman Pelle Almqvist was especially vivacious and kept the crowd entertained with their old-school rock anthems, ‘Hate to Say I Told You So’ and ‘Tick Tick Boom’.

They say it changes when the sun goes down, and it does. After the Arctic Monkeys took to the stage, Alex Turner, with trademark smile and swagger, launched into ‘Brianstorm’ and ‘Snap Out Of It’ to thunderous applause; the majority of those sitting in the stands jumped to their feet.

To hear a group live rather than listen to their music on Spotify is as much to see a play performed rather than read it. Renditions of tracks from their seventh and latest album, The Car, were interspersed with fan favourites from the previous six studio albums. Following an initial listen to the new LP, I was sceptical of much of the band’s evolving style of lyricism, which has moved away from the snapshots of early 2000s Sheffield in Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, to the at times lugubrious feel of The Car. For example, lines such as ‘“The ballad of what could’ve been”’ from new track and number eight on the setlist, ‘Big Ideas’, sound a little self-aggrandizing and pretentious.

Live, Turner is now including lyrical Easter eggs such as at the end of Humbug classic ‘Cornerstone’: why did he choose to sing ‘“I knew”’ rather than the original ‘“I thought she might understand”’ in the last verse? At other points, particularly during ‘Big Ideas’, the lyrics veer towards ironically describing what they exemplify, as the song becomes itself a big idea that does not quite know what it is trying to say. Nuances like this one help to define a great band. In the fifteen or so years since Humbug, Turner is laying claim to a new worldliness, an understanding and clarity which he did not possess as a 23-year-old lyricist, and is recontextualising AM based on the people the group are now.

Three quarters into the set, naturally during ‘There’d Better Be a Mirrorball’, a sparkling mirror ball descends, heralding more reflective and melancholic songs. Also, as well as seeing new popularity on TikTok, Favourite Worst Nightmare finale ‘505’ still sounds as good live as when played during that album’s tour in 2007. Then came the most underrated moment of the evening: another new number, ‘Body Paint’, which was performed with soft liquid synths, haunting melodic grooves, and effortless drum rolls from group mainstay Matt Helders.

The three-song encore, which ended with the rip-roaring banger ‘R U Mine’, felt like a fitting culmination. Yet, as has been observed of their more recent headlining slot at Glastonbury, the group’s touring set has the habit of not always bringing the crowd along on the journey. The programme emphasises that this leg is merely one of a global tour, and although Arctic Monkeys have come home, I left wondering what direction the band will lead us in next.

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