Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not argued a poorly-named indie band’s lift off of a debut album. The days of Alex Turner as the reticent teenager, guitar strung high on his body like a Buddy Holly tribute act are far behind us. Spouting his sublime poetry of social commentary, Turner’s earliest outings were those of a man unsure of his own charms, reluctant to let go in front of an ever growing audience who lapped things up regardless.
Indeed he was not, it turns out, what people said he was. Arctic Monkeys indie urban poetry gave way to an act that can claim a rare truly chart-conquering success in 21st century rock, and one in which that borderline bumbling front man has become the archetypal rock god. He’s grown into a startling, strutting, abrasive, tax-dodging stage star. The slick-haired, gritty Arctic Monkeys before us tonight would have walked away before hearing out those ‘Fake Tales Of San Francisco’, and as for ‘Bigger Boys & Stolen Sweethearts’, the kids from the year above would have had to peel the girls off this lot with some kind of kitchen implement. Their latest album, AM, seemed to drop all traces of the debut and finally make that transformation irreversible; the only question remaining is ‘was the sodden rock and roll route the way to go?’
Tonight’s certainly heavy on the hearty riffs. Opener ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ has the abrupt air of The White Stripes ‘Seven Nation Army’, and whips up an instant-frenzy that’s dragged out by the swagger of ‘Brianstorm’ and an outtake of Black Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’ dropped into the core of the boisterous ‘Arabella’. AM is set to dominate with all but two tracks from the 2013 release aired tonight. The album – a record breaker in being Arctic Monkey’s fifth (from five) consecutive UK number one with independent label Domino – has proven so universally popular that this tour’s set list is largely a fusion of old singles and newer blues-rock album tracks.
The set list is confident to the point of brash, but that’s entirely in fitting with the present-day persona, with Cook, O’Malley and even brilliant drummer Matt Helders little more than cogs in Turner’s marauding machine. That’s not to say there aren’t lows. While ‘Dancing Shoes’ and the soaring egotism of ‘Crying Lightning’ inject a boisterous energy into proceedings, ‘Library Pictures’ and ‘Fireside’ are the kind of plodding sub-psychedelic pieces of light-rock experimentalism that would likely find themselves ejected from the set had they not been featured on relatively recent releases. Fortunately ‘I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ has all the rampaging energy and crowd enthusiasm needed to make up for half a dozen slightly off-key moments.
It’s the fun factor that sweeps those weaker corners aside, however. ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’, with its “you used to get it in your fishnets, now you only get it in your night dress” refrain is the bounciest pop-led moment of the evening, tucking an almost ska edge in amongst the bubbly drums, while ‘No 1 Party Anthem’s drawling sarcasm and dripping prose is met with straight-faced elation despite its cess-pit descriptions. Set closer ‘505’ nicely sums up the act’s growing dark tinge, chords filled-out into a wall-of-sound live set up that stumbles into a wander off stage.
All that energy sadly subsides into a shambles of an encore during which Turner’s swagger finally crosses to the wrong side of the confidence/ ego line. The mellow sing-along of a gorgeous acoustic ‘A Certain Romance’ gives way to the awkward fusions of ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ and the weaker new millennium version of the Manic’s ‘You Love Us’, and ‘Are You Mine?’. Frankly it’s a massive anti-climax. The latter quickly becomes a non-descript dirge, sending the assembled out into the summer night with a whimper rather than a roar.
With a back catalogue that grows in class even with the weaker releases and – finally – a definitive grasp on the weighted blending of that early indie buzz band and the career rock act (just three tracks from that special debut), Arctic Monkeys’ raucus live set up doesn’t lack for much. It seems the swagger, power chords and cold confidence are here to stay, even if they do leave a little ache where the likes of ‘Mardy Bum’ used to be.