After a comprehensive tour of stadiums and festivals across Europe and America, September marked the month when the English rock band Arctic Monkeys would finally return home for a set of arena tours in Manchester, London, Birmingham, Newcastle and of course, Sheffield. I was lucky enough to get tickets to attend one of their four London shows at the o2 Arena on September 10th. The usual quartet of Alex Turner, now sporting a buzz cut as opposed to a slicked back quiff on lead guitar, piano and lead vocals, Jamie Cook, (guitar,) Nick O’Malley, (bass guitar, backing vocals) and Matthew Helders (drums, backing vocals) were supported by Tom Rowley, Davey Latter and Tyler Parkford, signalling the added depth the new album needs on stage.
The new album, “Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino,” released in May 2018, was by far their most experimental and divisive to date. A concept album about a hotel resort on the moon, the sixth installment to their career was criticised by some as “boring,” and “not Arctic Monkeys.” While I am a fan of the album, I was certainly intrigued as to how the new addition would integrate with the rest of their discography: Turner’s falsettos and jazzy pianos replacing the fast delivery and heavy guitars that many have come to expect. The integration was seamless.
Arriving at the o2 Arena full of anticipation, we made our way to the standing area and awaited the support act, “The Lemon Twigs.” The set design was clearly inspired by the retro style of the album, with simple, minimalistic rectangles standing beneath a floating pentagon – extremely similar to the album cover. The support act was fairly disappointing, but as they left the stage more and more filled their seats and the standing area as we collectively awaited the main event.
After an agonizing wait, the stage was illuminated by flashing red lights and the sound of beeps followed by the audience erupting in cheers filled the arena as the seven men took their places. The crowd believed they knew “Four Out Of Five” would start proceedings, but we were mistaken, as Turner played the chords to the slow opener to their new album “Star Treatment,” followed by the belting of the first lyric “I just wanted to be one of The Strokes.” I very much enjoyed the opener, but it was clear a fairly substantial minority of the audience was not well versed in the new music. They would soon get their wish. After “Star Treatment” ended, Turner ordered the audience to “come here, you!” before breaking into the frantic crowd favourite “Brianstorm” from the second album, “Favourite Worst Nightmare”. The audience willingly obliged, with every man and woman rushing forward to the stage, all 20,000 in the o2 singing the riffs and every word of the lyrics.
The gap before “Brianstorm” was the last time anyone was able to breathe for at least 45 minutes, which included some of my favourite songs the Arctic Monkeys have written such as “From the Ritz to the Rubble,” an unexpected surprise from the first album, “Teddy Picker” and “Do Me A Favour” from “Favourite Worst Nightmare” and the hard-hitting “Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair.” Also during this period was “505,” a favourite of many. However, the band showed off their musicianship by combining this with an extended interlude entitled “The Jam of Boston” into the title track from their new album. By combining new and old with a smooth transition, the band showed how far their music has progressed, but at their core, they are still the Arctic Monkeys from High Green, Sheffield.
Here, Alex Turner and the band took a chance to explore their softer side, playing “One Point Perspective” and “American Sports” from their new album and the ballad “Cornerstone,” with Turner gazing at the camera. This change in tone was welcomed by an exhausted audience, the frontman himself stating “it got a little furious back there!” Despite being a tour supporting “Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino,” it was their fifth album “AM” which stole the limelight in terms of the setlist. Given the audience reactions to songs such as “Do I Wanna Know?” and “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” it isn’t hard to see why. I’m not the biggest fan of these songs but the added effect and texture offered by the supporting cast was definitely noticeable and they sounded brilliant live.
The dark “Pretty Visitors” was the penultimate song of the main set. My favourite song, this sent the standing crowd into a frenzy of mosh pits, the strobe lighting and manic drumming by Helders ensuring this was one to remember. Turner announced it was time to leave, and as an extended “Four Out of Five” ended they trudged off, waving. Very few believed this was the end however, and it wasn’t long before Turner returned, simply stating “We’re back for an encore!” During the break a curtain had been drawn to reveal the large “Monkeys” sign.
The encore signalled a short trip back to square one; to where it all began for the Arctic Monkeys in their adolescent years, as they broke into the instantly recognisable riff from “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor.” This is what so many had been waiting for. Turner’s voice has changed almost beyond recognition since the boyish Yorkshire accent of 2006, but traces of it occasionally came through in this hit from the past. This was undoubtedly a highlight of the night as the crowd came together to chant the song which made the Monkeys famous. The encore ended with “Arabella” and “R U Mine,” arguably the two strongest songs from “AM,” and then it was time for Turner to wave goodbye for good, declaring “London, you’ve been fantastic.”
I am so grateful I was able to buy tickets and I felt they were worth every penny. The only possible criticisms I would have is that it was a fairly short set of 21 songs, and I would prefer more classics from their first album, but I understand that we are in a new era of their lives now. Singing songs about mean bouncers and taxi ranks just isn’t relatable for Alex Turner anymore.
Arctic Monkeys have now finished their UK tour and a final leg of shows in America await, before a potential headlining spot at Glastonbury in 2019. New tours may not be too far away, with Turner stating he is tempted to return straight to the studio and start writing a new album. It really could go in any direction.