Review: Arctic Monkeys live at Ashton Gate, Bristol

Press photo of Arctic Monkeys by Zackery Michael

Arctic Monkeys by Zackery Michael

Arctic Monkeys’ stadium show took place on May 29th.

Barring TV appearances in promotion for seventh album The Car, UK audiences haven’t been able to see Arctic Monkeys in action since Reading & Leeds Festival last August.

In the nine months since they’ve been touring the rest of the world, stopping in Europe, Australia, Asia and South America while the home fanbase twiddle their thumbs, in readiness for a series of huge gigs and the small matter of a Glastonbury headline slot in June.

Regardless of the venue, with so many shows under their belt, they should be at their peak for their native audience. Unsurprisingly, they are.

Although touring and playing live has always been one of their many strengths, the foursome transitioned from indie heavyweights to a muscular, festival-slaying rock band during the AM tour of 2013/14.

Their longest tour ever, it solidified the ever-evolving band’s place at music’s top table and, despite the musical experimentation since that album, taught them useful lessons which they’ve consolidated since. Indeed, it’s ironic that after their two least commercially viable albums, Turner and co are at playing their biggest-ever UK shows, but such is their power as a live force.

As always in their career, Arctic Monkeys have done it at the right time for them, just as they stepped up to arenas only on the Humbug tour.

Stadia across the country would have been filled a decade ago, but it’s testament to their attitude (and the support they receive from their label and their ‘people’) and their overall sense of control that they will never be rushed.

The biggest UK band in the world is about to play to hundreds of thousands of people over a few short weeks with little fanfare, although one suspects other artists taking up all the oxygen this summer suits them down to the ground.

On the first night of this stadium tour in Bristol the audience is immediately rewarded for their patience, with the original album version of Mardy Bum opening the set to audible gasps.

It’s the first full-band performance of one of their most-loved tracks from the generation-defining debut album since 2007 and a fitting reminder of how far they’ve come.

Choice cuts from throughout Arctic Monkeys’ career immediately follow: Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair, Brianstorm, Snap Out Of It and Crying Lightning, all relentlessly dispatched with gusto.

The latter has been given a polish, with a mid-section slowed down before the final chorus the first opportunity for breath to be caught and all a reminder that, for all his other strengths, Alex Turner’s skill as a guitarist often goes unfairly unacknowledged. Likewise Jamie Cook, who works beautifully in sync with his old friend, most notably on The View From The Afternoon but consistently throughout.

Turner goes guitar-free on the reworked Four Out Of Five (the only inclusion from Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino) for his now-mandatory showman-like wander around the stage for a run of tracks which includes another surprise, the first performance of Humbug-era gem My Propellor for nearly a decade.

It’s warmly received and follows a segue from a typically brutal Arabella, from which the War Pigs tip of the hat has been superseded with a tiny snippet of their own Pretty Visitors.

Although ostensibly in support of The Car, the album is only represented with its three singles (which seems a shame given half of AM is selected, even if that album is better designed for the setting) and, while the beautiful There’d Better Be A Mirrorball is perhaps too tender for a stadium, the moody, intense Sculptures Of Anything Goes broods well in a bigger setting.

Best of all is Body Paint, closing the main set and, fittingly, the highlight of it. It culminates in a wig-out that could go on forever and still not become wearing, the extended live band clearly enjoying themselves.

A thoroughly satisfied crowd is then taken into raptures as the gig ends with a double punch of Arctic Monkeys’ best-known work.

Given their current musical direction, it seems unlikely that they will record something in the vein of I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor or R U Mine? in the future, but the band’s desire and hunger when playing them should never be in doubt, even if they don’t break into a sweat (apart from the consistently impressive Matt Helders on drums).

An impeccable setlist (although given their fearsome back catalogue it couldn’t be anything else) and a powerhouse of a performance from band at the top of their game, but tonight is also a warning to the rest of the country: you’d better just succumb to it and brace yourself.

Over the next few weeks the UK will be living in Arctic Monkeys’ world and, as their frontman once said, there’s nothing you can do about it.

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