Sheffield’s biggest export since Def Leppard, Arctic Monkeys continue to bask in their arena-rock credentials. From the north of England via LA, they stop off in Auckland before heading to South America, on their Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino Tour.
Support band Mini Mansions are a stark reminder of what the perils of being too close in an Alex Turner / Josh Homme coterie can do to you. Only summery Midnight In Tokyo and the bass player’s half-arsed attempts to mimic Nicky Wire’s goose-stepping did anything to rise above an otherwise turgid tempo and simulacra Monkey-Stone Age sound.
Opening up, the Arctic Monkeys’ rocket ship is firing on all four cylinders as it heads towards the Tranquility Base Hotel. Especially exciting is a rip-roaring Brainstorm - its bullet-fire snare ending is an early highlight. 5-songs in is when the rocket ship docks, with One Point Perspective. It is a, perhaps inevitable, shame that the logistics of arena rock shows don’t allow for the change in pace and tone of the Monkey’s sixth album sound to come through.
Maybe they thought they needed to beef it up so that not all the punters nipped off for a wee during these new songs, and that they had something to nod to. Only on set-closer Four Out Of Five does the subtlety of the new loungy songs stand out and deviating from the distorted stabs that the mosh pit so obviously craved. It’s a bit of a shame.
Turner looks like a Sean Penn karaoke-version of himself.
You can take the boys outta Sheffield, but you can’t … oh wait, maybe you can. Not that it's a bad thing, but guitarist Jamie Cook and bassist Nick O’Malley look and sound like Lyon-esque southern rock, all flarey hair and trousers, heels and bluesy guitars.
This is the Monkeys’ default sound, whether on tracks from US-influenced AM, like opener Do I Wanna Know? or on the more anthemic 505 from the now overlooked Favourite Worst Nightmare.
Your boy, Alex Turner, however, (yes, the spunkiest Monkey, as the screaming crowd well-knows) still drawls in the warm northern twang that has always made Arctic Monkeys special. Yes, he’s the cocky yoof and “dreams of naughtiness” on the unavoidable I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor, but he’s also Mark the quiet receptionist at the Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino.
Whatever he is, Turner’s idiosyncratic phrasing and esoteric lexical choices are - when (which is not often) you can make them out, why watching and listening to the Arctic Monkeys so joyous.
The other nod to the north comes in the slightly pie-shaped silhouette of brilliant drummer Matt Helders. He pounds the floor toms and scatter-shots his snare like there’s no tomorrow. The band writhe around his rhythms, and what with his contribution to the harmonies, It’s great to watch someone other than the frontman or lead guitarist shine.
The clever lighting also shines. Dirty white and burgundy dominate, accentuating the seediness of proceedings, and opening up the stage as the seven musicians move around one of 3 piano set-ups. Sidelights then shrink the stage, as Arctic Monkeys become the house-band at the Tranquility Casino, caught in the uplight glare - half brat pack, half Band On The Run.
The video screens also add to the overall sense of glamourous craftsmanship. Shot through a grainy-70s-kind-of-Old-Grey-Whistle-Test filter, the band seem more distant. Turner looks like a Sean Penn karaoke-version of himself. It makes watching the video screens a worthwhile pastime, and not just a distraction from the fact you’re at a live show when all eyes really should be on the band.
A sparse amount of audience interaction [“you’re very kind - insert name of city here”] is still rewarded with the screams and shouts of real fandom - a warm reminder that the Arctic Monkeys are actually one of the biggest rock bands on the planet, not the indie-upstarts playing in the back room of a pub I always have in my mind’s eye. Good stuff.