Dwarfed by a giant roadie, Arctic Monkeys look like four Yorkshire hobbits as they make their entrance. But that must be the only time in a frenetic, fulfilling show when Alex Turner’s tearaways, barely out of their teens, don’t match up to their stature as Britain’s current biggest band.
How they got into this position is still surprising. Fuelled by an internet fanbase, their first album, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, ramraided the charts and became the fastest-selling debut ever, swiping nearly every award available. Its songs about drunken fumblings in Asbo-land even apparently appealed to Gordon Brown, UK finance minister. Now the follow-up, Favourite Worst Nightmare, due on April 23, already has many critics salivating.
“It’s warmer than yesterday, I feel,” quips Turner, commenting not just on the fine weather but also on the Friday-night frenzy that greets the group’s second gig here in 24 hours.
Cannily, about two-thirds of the set is older material. The sardonic singalongs “Fake Tales of San Franciso”, “Mardy Bum” and “When the Sun Goes Down” are inevitable rabble rousers, delivered in a clatter of scratchy guitars and springy bass.
New ones such as “Teddy Picker”, “If You Were There, Beware” and “Do Me a Favour” bristle with ambition and innuendo. Their textures seem richer: the tom-tom ferocity of Matt Helders’s drumming and what could be 1960s Mod influences shuttled round a post-punk pinball machine. And their themes – in between predictable digs at television non-entities and the “T-shirt and ties combination” sported by an idiotic hanger-on – are more lustily adult.
“Thanks for coming, I really enjoyed myself,” says Turner, curiously recalling an end-of-the-pier comic at the close. Likeably chippy, Arctic Monkeys have none of the boorishness of Oasis, whose band-of-the-people mantle now hangs from their necks.
Their encore, requiring an electric organ, offered a yet more promising Britpop comparison. “505”, the new album’s finale, swelled from seedy, surreptitious beginnings to full-on bedsit fantasia. It was pure Pulp (“lying on your side, your hands between your thighs”), lacking only Jarvis Cocker’s peacock strut. Something in Sheffield’s water must get its songwriters’ knees trembling.
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