Anticipation has a habit…
The highly awaiting chance to see Arctic Monkeys live again got taken up to the next level due to a chance opportunity to go to both Auckland and Wellington shows. I had posted on the Arctic Monkeys online forum weeks in advance asking if anyone had a spare ticket to either show, as I had missed out on the original G.A. sale and was looking to not buy from scalpers if possible. Just last week an admin of the forum named Athena saw this message and offered me a spare Wellington ticket she had, as she could no longer make the trip from Australia. I was blown away by the generosity and offered to pay for the ticket but she insisted on no payment. Fellow Monkeys fans are the best. So after a few days of deliberation I jumped at the chance (perhaps self-indulgent but I will pay it forward when the opportunity arises) to go to both shows.
Crowds queued up early at both shows, with mostly the teen fan base taking a place long before the doors open, attempting to get as close to their heroes as possible. Wandering the streets of Wellington in the early morning, about 8.30am after my plane touched down, I came across a small group of fans who were already sitting outside TSB Arena, complete with sleeping bags and necessities to keep them going. Some told me they had been waiting since four in the morning. It seems Arctic Monkeys fandom has well and truely continued after their initial success of the last decade, undoubtedly on a second wind due to the success of last years AM.
The night before in Auckland I arrived relatively late to the venue, only securing my ticket very last minute. I caught up with a few friends and then took my place inside, having missed the opening act Pond. I would catch them the next night at Wellington, and there they were awesome, sounding heavier and carrying more weight live than on their albums. They deserve to have their own limelight, and escape the shadow of fellow Perth-psychedelic rockers Tame Impala, who they have shared several members with.
Anticipation has a habit to set you up for disappointment in evening entertainment some say. And I had years of pent up anticipation brewing before the Arctics took stage in Auckland. I had a seated ticket for that night right down the back of the arena and as the boys came out and launched into One For The Road I quickly realized this seated thing would not do. The music sounded great, the band looked great, but Vector Arena’s screens weren’t on and many people were staying in their seats, not dancing around my area. I made my way down the steps to the side of the barrier, with the arena within jumping distance below me. I did not plan this, but by the time of Arabella I felt my decision had been made for me. A security guard turned his back and in time to the music I jumped, hitting the floor and loosing my footing as I fell. I quickly got up and ran into the standing masses, a little shocked and incredibly excited that I had not been caught and thrown out. I continued to make my way into the mass of people as the band started up with Brianstorm. Any potential disappointment was soon eradicated, within the standing crowd was the place to be, as I had previously assumed.
Boy had things moved on since New Zealand last saw the Arctics live at the Big Day Out 2009 before the release of Humbug. We’ve all followed the youtube streams, Glastonbury performances and other album promotional stuff since then, so the look of the band came as no surprise. Nick O’Malley still rocking his beastly beard, Jamie Cook now back with long hair, Matt Helders letting his curls grow out a little longer and Alex with the characteristic quiff and expensive suits that have come to define him in this period of the band. The first time I caught them live in 2009 at the Auckland Big Day Out the band opened with Pretty Visitors, a completely new track at that time, which sounded great but felt a slightly awkward opening to a festival set (Alex played the keys then which is now left to touring keyboardist Thomas Rowley). This time the Arctic’s took the stage bathed in red light to the sound of a backing track, which led into a slightly extended One For The Road intro. The confidence the band has gained from years of non-stop touring is immediately apparent. I was glad to see the band had brought the giant AM lights down this side of the world (although they were no doubt smaller versions than the colossal ones present at the 2013 European tour) and the general lighting design went for the huge and impressive, with smoke and strobes utilized to impressive effect. A far cry from the couple of lamps that littered the stage back at the Big Day Out.
The new songs sound almost studio perfect live, with Davey Latter filling in the extra percussion and back up vocals, his spot to the back left of the stage just to the left of the giant ‘A’ light, but still visible. As well as keyboards Thomas Rowley fills in extra live guitar, often doubling the Jamie’s rhythm licks, with fills up the sound. Matt’s drumming is on point, he’s an ever impressive live drumming nailed every fill and beat. Occasionally I wondered if the tempos were slightly slower than on the album, but this was possibly only noticeable in the old material, Florescent Adolescent and Dance floor particularly, perhaps a symptom of the band moving on from their punk roots and towards this more groove orientated direction. Jamie’s playing was also tight as, and he seems to be moving around a bit more, though still keeping near his pedals. He was particularly in motion at the Wellington gig, perhaps encouraged by the rapturous crowd response at that second gig. Nick’s stage presence is also at a new peak nowadays, due largely to his great beard and his backing vocals were one of the most impressive parts of either gig. He now performs Josh Holmes vocal spot in Knee Socks and if you close your eyes you can barely tell a difference between the two. Hopefully they continue to use his vocals in the future.
Finally Alex, now every bit the front man, teasing the crowd between songs – stalking the stage with just a mic in Pretty Visitors and Arabella like some indie rock Elvis – nailing the vocals of every song and switching between lead and rhythm with effortless ease (Alex’s lead/vocal double act in the chorus of Knee Socks is some pretty impressive stuff to watch). Ladies love him, guys want to be him (judging by the Alex turner haircuts around both arena’s); he might come across a bit more full of himself than the Alex of 2009, but it seems to be working in terms of pulling off a gripping live show.
Wellington or Auckland, “Do I Wanna Know?”
In terms of the differences between the gig, I think the Wellington show had better atmosphere, the crowd was electric and really densely packed due to the small venue. The boys seemed to register this and the energy on stage was higher, as well as more banter from Alex at that second show. At one point Alex asked for the audience lights to be turned on, at which he pointed to a silhouette in the back of the arena, stating something along the lines of “that’s some trippy stuff Wellington, looks like a James Bond title sequence” in his Sheffield-cum-Rockabilly drawl. I wasn’t quite sure what he was talking about but the audience appreciated the interaction. Later before final track R U Mine? and after I Wanna Be Yours, Alex pulled out the effective routine of “we are yours Wellington, but I have one question to ask.. R U Mine!?” (paraphrased). His in between song banter through out was as amusing and the crowd responds enthusiastically every time. Auckland was as good of a show as well, not to do any disservice to it, but due to me having to mission into the G.A. area part of the way into the set and perhaps the more intimate size of Wellington led to me putting that second show just slightly above the first. Maybe also the fact it was my first show at the TSB Arena in Wellington, and the little I had adventure surrounding that second gig with a 6am flight (not to mention the last minute hook up of the ticket from Athena); these personal elements probably have some part to play in my preference of the second gig. But both amazing shows none the less, justifying why I hold this modern rock band so much higher than many others.
“Nothing on the early stuff”
As well as nearly hearing the whole of the new album over the course of both nights (we got Number One Party Anthem at the second show, the only songs missing were Mad Sounds and I Want It All ) the band treated us to many of their old classics. Having missed the Suck It And See tour, I was stoked to hear She Thunderstorms. I’m a big fan of Suck It And See and was hoping for just a few random tracks from that album, so that did the the trick. Library Pictures was also a highlight of both sets, the fast numbers standing out even more against the groovier new numbers. From Humbug we got the ever kick ass Crying Lightening, a live favourite of mine. At the Wellington show, a rare live stumble occurred just before this song with Matt cutting off an introduction from Alex by counting the song in perhaps too soon. Both shows also got a version of Cornerstore, with Alex playing the first verse and chorus acoustically by himself. Auckland also was lucky enough to receive an epic version of Pretty Visitors from the same album. From Favourite Worst Nightmare both shows featured Brianstorm which never fails to set the crowd jumping, the sing-along of Florescent Adolescent which I felt was played slightly slower (and perhaps has been since the Humbug tour) and 505, which seems to be quite a crowd favourite. Auckland got 505 as the traditional encore closer, whereas 505 closed the first set at Wellington, with R U Mine closing the show that time round. I have to say I prefer R U Mine? as the set closer and it’s good to see them mixing it up. From the first album we got the very welcome Dancing Shoes and that other song which needs no introduction (Bet You Look Good), that seems to forever remain their number one crowd favourite (the little kids seem to have got into it like it was 2006).
I should note that the new material got some of the largest applause from the audience, particularly and perhaps unsurprisingly Do I Wanna Know?, which I felt worked better earlier in the set, such as in Wellington, than as the first set closer as per Auckland. Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High? came early in the set in Auckland so had more of an effect on me when placed at the start of the encore in Wellington. At that second show, High? came across to me as one of the biggest set highlights and I hope it remains a fixture. It was also great to hear I Wanna Be Yours both nights, which I assume won’t stay in the set forever, but is probably the darkest song of the set at the moment and a real moody juxtaposition. Great to hear Helders on the electronic samples during this song as well.
Being on old fan since the Beneath The Boardwalk days, I have to be lame and say I miss not hearing a lot of the old material. There was sadly no Old Yellow Bricks that I was hoping for given it’s inclusion in 2013, and part of me left Wellington wondering what had happened to Teddy Picker/Still Take You Home/A Certain Romance, that sort of stuff. They’d be huge crowd numbers so I hope they don’t retire them for good, but in saying that they’re starting to amass quite a large list of classics so it’s impossible to hear them all. They also seem to have stopped playing b-sides at the moment, and even though it’s not yet had a live debut, it would be great to hear stuff like Stop The World which I personally think is one of their best songs and probably deserved to be on the album.
But in spite of being a picky AM nerd, both gigs were amazing and satisfied the several-year long urge to see the band live again. For the time being that is, I see me travelling to see them live many times in the future, hopefully at some international festivals. I don’t see why it won’t happen as well, they’re showing no signs of slowing down.
“Your heroes aren’t what they seem…”
The only other disappointment of the weekend, was I failed in my attempts to stalk and get a photo with any member of the band (but this is definitely periphery to the music). I spent most of Saturday waiting around TSB arena, the hoping to spot the boys coming in for a soundcheck. At around three o’clock their music could be heard from within the venue, so we all thought it was them soundchecking. Turns out false alarm, and was just the sound crew testing the gear, fooling us all. I was there however when their cars arrived at TSB arena, and led a gang of 15 year olds at their first concert up to try and meet the band. They were running late so went straight inside though but Alex did give us a wave. Was kind of cool as well to see who traveled with who, Matt was in a car with Jamie, Alex with Nick in another car. Apparently they were hanging out at Wellington bar Mighty Mighty later that night, but I was pretty exhausted after the show, so we’ll have to give up the stalking until next time (or maybe give it up completely and repress the instincts of the teenage fan-boy within).
But I hate to end on a pessimistic note and it was a pretty damn good couple of gigs indeed. The Arctic fan base in strong down these southern ways and seems set to remain, so hopefully the boys come and grace us with a few more gigs next tour. With another couple of albums the size of AM, they could be doing their own stadium shows rather than basketball arenas next time we see them here.
To finish, here’s a video of R U Mine? recorded on an Ipod Nano I had in my pocket. Pretty awful quality, but alright for archival purposes: