Last year, in a late-night moment of weakness (OK, on a drunken impulse), I purchased a ticket to see the Arctic Monkeys, knowing there was a very slim chance I would actually attend the show. It was a $20 ticket for small show at a biker bar venue in the middle of Death Valley, 4 hours away from where I live. Though the investment was not large, I woke up the next morning and laughed off the foolish notion that I would drive 8 hours round trip for a single show. I’m a fan, but I’m not that big a fan… of any band.
Still, I love those seclusive Monkeys, and the fact is they schedule very few US tour dates. When the announcement came that they would return to Southern California for a date at the Hollywood Palladium on June 3, I jumped at the chance to see them this time around (not requiring travel to the far corners of the state!) With only 11 shows across the US to promote the release of their new album Suck It and See, I was thrilled to have the chance see them in the small, sold out venue.
One of Arctic Monkeys greatest strengths in the studio is magnified in their live show; they seamlessly shift tempo within songs, providing energetic ebbs and flows. Their audience may be swaying gently in one moment, while eagerly awaiting that upcoming chorus where they will jump in the air, shake their fists, and shout out loud. At the heart of this strength is drummer Matt Helders; holy hell, the force is strong in this one! “Brianstorm,” off of their album Favourite Worst Nightmare is among the most lightning-fast drumming you will ever hear, and to witness that song live is proof that Helders is indeed as quick and precise as the studio version suggests. Throughout the show, I was continually amazed by the puppeteer effect Helders’ playing had over the movement of the crowd.
The enthusiastic crowd did not let up on energetic outpouring throughout the entire set, even when the band played the less familiar songs of their new (unreleased) album. Clearly, I was not the only one who had been live streaming the new material off of the Monkeys’ website. In an hour and a half set that was an even mix of about 4 songs from each album, the band played new songs “Brick by Brick,” “Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair,” “She’s Thunderstorms,” “The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala,” and “Reckless Serenade” to a crowd that already knew the lyrics. Naturally, the night’s highlights and the songs that stirred the greatest fervor were old favorites “Still Take You Home,” “The View From the Afternoon,” and the especially fun “When the Sun Goes Down.”
The Arctic Monkeys are quite impressive, with all band members playing well off one another’s strengths. The rhythm section is so versatile, and when it slows tempo and allows the lead guitar to weave in bluesy, acid rock riffs, the result is the sexier, more controlled sound that marks their evolution with each new album from angsty townies to world traveling rock stars. The new album has a mellower feel than the earlier albums, a consequence of more thoughtful and diverse arrangements in which the rhythm section and guitar playing trade off and compliment each other well.
As I’ve said before, and it bears repeating, Alex Turner is a smart and witty lyricist. He often writes from an observational viewpoint. In a crowded room of people, he is likely the wallflower, quietly drinking in the interactions of those around him, and taking careful note of appearance and body language. I have yet to scour the lyrics of the new album, but my initial impression is that it does not reflect his best lyrical work. However, I think a move toward lyrical simplicity is intentional here; it fits an early 1960 retro-rock feel that permeates the new album. A song like “Brick by Brick” has predictable wordplay and is lyrically repetitive, but such qualities make it one of the catchiest “throwback” songs on the album.
Members of the Arctic Monkeys, just 19 years old when they wrote their first album and became national treasures in England, demonstrate growth and maturity with each new album release. Some fans may miss the more aggressive sound of early albums, as the band continues to explore psychedelic, blues, and surf rock genres. But if you drop a naysayer into the middle of Friday night’s mosh pit I think they would find that the band has not abandoned their old sound at all. A mix of old and new material flowed seamlessly together to create a satisfying, well-balanced live experience.