The Arctic Monkeys at Avalon
By MATT ASHARE | June 16, 2006
Of all the bands who have blossomed out of Britain over the past few years, the Arctic Monkeys somehow seem to be the most likeable. Not necessarily the most popular or the most successful –- those things take time and more than one brilliant single -- but there’s something genuine and, well, wholesome about the band. Yeah, the bassist, Andy Nicholson, had to bail from the current US tour: he headed back home to Sheffield for a little break from the action. But there was nothing seedy or even questionable about that. After all, these guys are young and ever since they released their first single, the raucous, oddly playful “I Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor,” in October of last year, they’ve been on the hot seat. Everybody’s already heard the stats: the album, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (Domino), that set some sort of record in the UK for moving more units than all the rest of the albums in the Top 20, and then, unlike the equally young and rowdy Subways or the more refined Editors, they received a remarkably hearty welcome when they finally did arrive in the US. They’re not a household name yet, not by a longshot. And they ended their current US tour by selling out the relatively modest Avalon last night. But things have gone well. Very well.
ALEX TURNER: It's the shock of the new that radiates from Turner's delivery that makes the Arctic Monkeys so likeable.
You could almost tell how well by the prematurely world-weary tenor of frontman Alex Turner’s voice as he slurred his way through the ruffian street tale “Riot Van,” a mellow and melancholy show opener with offhanded yet remarkably poignant snapshots of the darker side of growing up in England: “Have you been drinking son, you don’t look old enough to me”/“I’m sorry officer is there a certain age you’re supposed to be?… nobody told me.” Turner doesn’t need loads of distortion to get his rebellious point across. And then, with a quick roll of the drums from Matt Helders, the Arctic Monkeys were off and running in the manic direction of “I Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor” with “The View From the Afternoon,” a tune full of edgy staccato guitars ricocheting off one another and a stiff yet danceable neo-new wave groove.
It does sound like the early-‘80s all over again, only these guys hadn't even been born when the first wave of post-punk was finding its feet. No, the Arctic Monkeys are one of the first generation of bands young enough to be influenced by the likes of the Strokes and Franz Ferdinand. The band gives no sense that there’s any plan to cop riffs from here or there. What I hear as Buzzcocks or Magazine or Talking Heads is just what appears to come naturally to Turner and Co. The dynamic shifts of “Dancing Shoes,” which does feature a few choice blasts of distorted guitar, perfectly mirror Turner’s growing disgust at the scene unfolding around him at the disco in the song, even as the rest of the band do their best to keep the audience moving to a jerky dance groove. And there’s real defiance in “Perhaps Vampires Is Too Strong But. . .,” a snarling anthem with a message that isn’t tempered one bit by it’s polite title: “All you people are vampires/All your stories are stale/Though you pretend to stand by us/You’re certain we’ll fail.”
They certainly aren’t the first band to have a paranoid reaction to success, and the song’s strobe light-enhanced psychedelic breakdown wasn’t anything shocking or original. But the band played it like they felt it was all their own. And, ultimately, it’s that lack of studied self-consciousness –- the very shock of the new that radiates from Turner’s delivery of the one song everyone sang along with –- that makes the Arctic Monkeys so uniquely likeable. After a decade of a Brit-pop defined by the surly sense of entitlement Oasis brought to these shores, there’s something refreshing about how very down to Earth Turner can be. He didn’t even bother to tell the crowd at Avalon it was the last night of the band’s tour until just before the final song. He seemed relieved, thankful, and genuinely pleased about what the they'd accomplished over the past few months. Now it’s time to go back home and figure out exactly what that really amounts to and put those feelings into a new batch of songs.
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