Five years ago, you’d never have believed that Sheffield’s Arctic Monkeys would ever be a arena-filling Premier League rock band. Yes, it was clear to everyone who heard them that they were the best British band in years, but playing to stadia of 11,000+ people? Never. It’s a pleasure to report, then, that the four normal lads from Yorkshire have become swaggering rock stars in the best way possible.
The Vaccines provided ample support, with their short, sharp indie-disco staples warming the crowd up as well as managing to sound equally as home in a huge arena as they do in small clubs and venues. The band do tend to garner a fair amount of ill will for their simplistic approach to songwriting, but they’re the best at what they do right now. Hearing "Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)" live only helps to confirm its status as one of the best songs of 2011 and the band already seem very home playing to thousands of people. Expect them to be headlining these sorts of gigs in an album or two’s time.
Strolling on stage with a perfectly coiffed quiff and leather jacket to match, Alex Turner has come a long way from the shy polo shirt ‘n’ hoodie wearing teenager of 2006. Holding the crowd in the palm of his hand, Turner has become an actual frontman instead of seeming like he’d rather be anywhere than the spotlight; crowd singalongs, sucking up to the locals (“They said ‘where do you want to go on this tour Alex?’, I said ‘I don’t care just as long as you get me back to Liverpool’”, a line the cynic inside of me can’t help but believe has been used and tailored to every city the band has visited on this tour), even a few spins and twirls. Even the stage set is a little more extravagant this time around; previously the Monkeys had stuck to just a few backing lights, but now four big screens (one for each band member) are unveiled rather grandly as opening track "Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair" kicks into life.
From there on in, it’s an intense 21 song set from Turner & co, relying more on their heavier tunes with only a peppering of the pop classics in the back catalogue. The middle of the set is a white-knuckle ride of the biggest, loudest riffs at the band’s disposal, hitting "Brianstorm", "The View From The Afternoon", "…Dancefloor", new b-side "Evil Twin", "Brick by Brick", "Pretty Visitors", "This House Is A Circus" and "Still Take You Home". “Pretty Visitors” in particular is a highlight, with Turner abandoning his guitar to prowl around the front of the stage, barking lyrics and staring out the audience like a rockabilly Nick Cave.
It speaks volumes about the band’s ability that they can revisit songs like “Still Take You Home” and "Teddy Picker", which are far removed from their current lives and mindset and still make them seem fresh and vital. Of course the biggest reactions come for the earlier material, even if a good proportion of the crowd woud barely have been in double digits in terms of age when Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not was released (a scary thought for this writer), but that doesn’t mean songs taken from the newer albums were met with stern faces and crossed arms. "Suck It And See" was met with a huge cry and possibly the second loudest singalong of the night. The loudest you ask? Well that came in the encore, for a reworked version of "Mardy Bum" which, by the reaction it recieved, you’d think was the new national anthem.
The only thing that could hve possibly topped it off qwas an appearance from the hometown hero Miles Kane in his usual spot, guesting on closer "505". But curiously, the part-time Last Shadow Puppet was nowhere to be found at the end of the set. Complaining about such a thing would be like complaining about not having ice cream after Christmas dinner; the Monkeys delivered a near perfect set in their own inimitable way, and, in my opinion, it can only get better.