Arctic Monkeys: Magna Centre, Rotherham

SPEND AN hour in the company of Britain’s hottest young band and an inescapable irony heaves into view. How is it that a frontman with such a facility for words struggles to find the right ones when the music stops? When the lank-haired Alex Turner finally did venture an utterance it was only to ask Sheffield how it was (he was in neighbouring Rotherham) and to inform us that he was swigging Tesco cider.

Perhaps it was just the anxiety that came of playing this (almost) hometown gig, but Turner and his colleagues lacked the self-assurance that had characterised their earlier shows.

They were brave to start with ‘Riot Van’ — one of the more reflective vignettes from Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. This was, after all, an audience wound up in anticipation of their heroes’ return. They got a chance to release that energy with ‘The View From The Afternoon’ and a rockier new song called ‘Cigarette Smoker Fiona’.

This, of course, isn’t the first time we’ve seen a working-class audience taking a band to its collective heart and singing their words back to them. Oasis once did it by sacrificing meaning to feel-good nonsense.

Arctic Monkeys songs are more complex creatures though. ‘When The Sun Goes Down’ eschews a chorus, but propelled along by Jamie Cook’s sinewy guitar playing, it wasn’t enough to stop countless fingers jabbing the air to decidedly uncatchy payoffs such as, “They’re all infected but he’ll be all right/Cos he’s a scumbag don’t you know.”

It’s a level of adulation for which most frontmen would sell a kidney. But, like his spiritual forbear the young Paul Weller, Turner didn’t look like a man ready to sit back and revel in it. At different times that was a blessing and a curse. There is no way that a happy, relaxed Arctic Monkeys could hotwire such power into crowd-pleasers such as ‘From The Ritz To The Rubble’ and ‘A Certain Romance’ — Turner’ s superlative serenade to his underachieving generation.

On the other hand, it’s surely a little early for the singer to be bewildering his fans with self-conscious song-suites about how the world might be perceiving his band. And yet, complete with bewildering drum solo, that’s what another new song, ‘Who The F*** Are Arctic Monkeys?’, sought to address.

When it finally reached its conclusion, a lone voice called out: “Play summat good, you t***s.” At which point the group launched into ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ — the hit that made household names of them. With tunes like that by way of riposte, perhaps Turner doesn’t need to find the right words.

© Pete PaphidesThe Times, 24 April 2006

Leave a Comment