It was kind of instructive...that the biggest audience response of the night was for ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor'
It wasn’t so much that Arctic Monkeys turned in a bad performance at RAC Arena last Saturday night, it was more that they tried a bunch of things and most of them disappeared into the shadows of the dimly lit stage they stood on.
When two members of one of the best known bands on the planet, in this case Monkeys’ guitarist, Jamie Cook, and bass player, Nick O’Malley, stand either side of stage in almost complete darkness for an entire show, something’s not right. That was one of the things that didn’t stick. The lighting was woeful. Trying to simultaneously channel seventies lounge bar schmalz and space-age interplanetary craft, reminiscent of current album artwork, Tranquillity Base Hotel and Casino, the investment in the lights was a waste of money. It left the band in the dark for much of the show and, even though they pulled off an amazing strobe effect during one song, it wasn’t so great that it helped this reviewer to remember what the particular song was.
Maybe better to have spent the money on some additional touring members? Because, if four additional musicians on stage aren’t enough, why not go for six, or eight, maybe 10? It’s a struggle to find a single Arctic Monkeys song that really needs a percussionist to make it work live, even on their new album. The number of musicians on stage felt excessive and added nothing of any great note to the spectacle (which most of us couldn’t really see, anyway) or the sound, which struggled to cut through the cavernous vaults of the venue.
Case in point was the night’s rendition of ‘505’, a song all about longing and anticipation. It’s a song that builds and builds until, after a pause for breath, it hits you right between the eyes with the final verses and Turner’s angst-ridden vocals. It’s a sucker punch that, even when you know it’s coming, never fails to thrill, leave you gasping. Except on this occasion, because in arranging the song for eight musicians it sounded like they’d had to find something for everyone to do, so they left out the all-important pause, filled it with noodling and, well, the song just didn’t work. It was too full.
Great songs, of the sort Turner and his colleagues mostly write, are as much about the space as they are about what fills it. Arctic Monkeys seemed to have forgotten that tonight. Perhaps overblown would be too kind?
Matt Helders is recognised as one of the best drummers going around these days and not without good cause. But a drum solo, in ‘Brianstorm’? And, if you’re going to do it, send your bandmates off stage and pull out the full 20-minute version. This was a half-hearted attempt that came and went like letting off a few firecrackers without proceeding to the fireworks.
As for Alex Turner, well, here’s the thing. The man’s voice is in the greatest shape it’s ever been. He managed some vocals the like of which we’ve never heard during an Arctic Monkeys live performance. They were great! And that falsetto, it’s the bomb!
Turner can stalk the stage and gyrate with the best of them. When it comes to fronting his band, there’s absolutely no doubt that he’s got the goods. Same for the rest of the band. They’re definitely contenders when they’re on song. It’s just that, tonight, they weren’t.
Arctic Monkeys have the songs, they have the swagger, they’ve got the form. Maybe tonight was just one of the missteps they had to have on the road to continued greatness? Who are we to say?
It’s good that they’re trying something new. Better to risk it all and fail than to stay safe. There’s no coming back from staying safe. It was kind of instructive, though, that the biggest audience response of the night was for ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’.
It took them five years to come back to our shores after touring AM. That's a long time between drinks. Having been away so long, Arctic Monkeys didn’t really seem revitalised or up for it at RAC Arena. And the four actual members of the band kept as far away from each other as they could — all night. Maybe it was because it was the first date of this leg of the tour? Maybe they were a bit underdone? Who can say?
Arctic Monkeys will be back. We hope their return isn't too far off, as they have unfinished business.