On the second day into 2012 in the midst of a debilitating Melbourne heatwave the irony of going to see the Arctic Monkeys was not lost on anyone. I was praying they’d bring their own arctic.
They did not.
I walk into the Palace and position myself under a massive air vent as Miles Kane’s second to last song is dying out, leaving him in front of a microphone, arms outstretched like a DJ in a God booth, yelling, “Motherfuckeeeers!” The psychedelia storming around under the rock and roll on his set closer, and the reverb on top, doesn’t dispel the feeling. People are mad for it. It is a great blues/psych rollout; he rips out a crazed solo, holding guitar aloft at the end and screeching into the mic. It’s pretty great.
When Arctic Monkeys take to the stage – Alex Turner in his newly affected teddy boy garb – it is Matt Helder who is immediately striking. His drumwork on first song “Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair” – incidentally the first single from Suck It And See, the album they are promoting on this tour – is awesome. The distance between where the band began and where they are now is clear. Turner draws his notes out a lot further than he used to; a sonic darkness pervades. I still enjoy intelligent compositions.
“We’re glad to see you, are you glad to see uz?” asks the frontman, in the one translatable sentence in his intro. The hot and heaving crowd roars. That’s a yes, then.
They smash out a perfect rendition of “Teddypicker” – a great song, and it turns out, one of the last highlights for me for the entire night. “Library Pictures” is an epic moment that rolls into “Brianstorm”, my favourite ever Arctic Monkeys song, which is brought to life with crazy white strobes, intercepted by Alex yelling, “Fookin’ Melbourne!” and the assembled fans screaming “Thunder” at the allotted time like rockpigs at an AC/DC concert.
Another highlight (for me, if no one else) is “The View From The Afternoon”. The diversity – particularly the drum breaks – and lyrical workout are fantastic. “I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor” is as frenetic and fresh as it ever was; and it’s been around long enough that the audience offers heartwarming and constant backing vocals.
From there on in not much happens to match the couple of early “moments”. Helder takes over the vocals for the majority of “Brick By Brick” but, really, it’s a pretty boring song. Miles Kane reappears to do “Little Illusion Machine (Wirral Riddler) – the track that he and his band The Death Ramps did with The Arctic Monkeys – which is a pretty good, if not terribly original blues/grunge type situation. He is a performer though, that Miles. He’s all over the stage, playing call to Turner’s guitar responses, and throwing down his mic with a howl at the end before he tries to up the crowd to a roar, stalking off stage with his arms in the air, presumably in victory.
“This House Is A Circus” is explosive – a strong live outing – but “Still Take You Home” and “Pretty Visitors” flit by uneventfully, except for the pitchy organ on the latter; the audience chimes in for “Do Me A Favour” and “Black Treacle” is a snooze.
When Alex sings “So, who’s that girl there?” signally the start of “When The Sun Comes Down” people tend to lose their shit a little bit. Turner can essentially leave vocals to the crowd for the first few bars (and does) and the anticipation built while waiting for the big “He’s a scumbag dontcha know?” crash is great. The frontman looks (endearingly) like a demented ballerina putting his arms up to encourage a bigger, more prolonged scream to bring on the music. It is by far and away the biggest crowd reaction yet and in hindsight would have been an excellent time to leave.
The enforced encore ritual seems tiring and to then launch into “Suck It And See” was even more lethargy-inducing. Strains of Regurgitator’s “I Like Your Old Stuff Better Than Your New Stuff” start up in my mind, a thought broken by the inclusion of “Fluorescent Adolescent” and reattached by night finisher “505.” To be honest – in deference to reviews of their festival set at Falls, which was apparently excellent – a pretty underwhelming event all round with a couple of flashes of brilliance to stave off my boredom.
– Melanie Lewis