Words by Murray Collie.
It’s 10:50 pm on Saturday the 8th of July 2017 and the distinct war cry that accompanies one of Kasabian’s most iconic festival anthems, ‘LSF’, is ringing around Glasgow Green as the indie heroes leave the stage. But the overall atmosphere has a hint of anticipation for what might be set to follow. In the week leading up to TRNSMT festivals debut outing, a rumour had quickly spread across the internet that the Arctic Monkeys were set to make an unannounced return, gracing the TRNSMT Main Stage before embarking on world domination once again. Whilst some headed for the exits, others lingered, hoping to become a part of music history.
The rumour itself, in reality, lacked concrete evidence – only reported sightings of Helders’ drum kit and the iconic ‘AM’ logo that was used on the Monkeys last tour. There were too many complications; the festival’s strict 11 pm curfew alongside the quashing of the speculation by the band’s label, Domino Records. The odds were stacked and the boys were a no-show. Disappointment.
Fast forward one year and the Arctic Monkeys have ventured into space with their most divisive album yet in the extravagantly titled ‘Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino.’ Set in a futuristic and fully gentrified hotel complex on the moon in which the Arctic Monkeys are the resident lounge band (yes, seriously), Alex Turner has produced a lyrically adventurous album that lacks the spine-tingling riffs of ‘AM’ or the chant-able, football terrace-esque choruses of ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’. Having admitted that his magical well full of innovative guitar inspiration has all but dried up, the Monkeys frontman has sat down with a keyboard to construct what could’ve been a solo record (if the rest of the band hadn’t been convinced that recording an album so ambitious would be worthwhile) and the results are truly mind-blowing. The album tells a story that is rewarding for those who are willing to give it a chance – but how would such a giant leap be received by a sun-soaked Scottish crowd when the band stepped out as the Sunday night headliners of TRNSMT festival 2018?
As the sun sets on Glasgow Green, TRNSMT’s main stage is packed, as expected, from front to back. Festival-goers await a first glimpse of the export that put High Green, Sheffield on the musical map as a faint red light illuminates the word ‘MONKEYS’ which is neatly positioned on a black and white barber pole backdrop. Cook, Helders and O’Malley cooly enter the scene and take their position ready for take-off. Turner follows. Dressed more safari park ranger than lunar astronaut, he bops to the opening bars of ‘Four Out Of Five’ – a song that documents the renovation and development of the infamous hotel on the moon where Alex is a major player (or maybe the only player).
This opening is a million light years away from the electrifying beginning that fans were greeted with during the Monkeys previous run where ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ – a track about obsessive love – was the chosen opener but, nevertheless, the TRNSMT faithful respond well, chanting the tune back towards the stage. Whilst the rest of the band barely break a sweat, the main man feeds off the crowd’s energy, swaying in time to the beat before slouching down at the keyboard, a sight that would become particularly prominent throughout the spectacle, for the remainder of the track.
Despite the perhaps surprising popularity of the opted for opener, the sight of Alex Turner lifting himself from his keys and collecting his guitar is a welcomed one. A “Good Evening Glasgow” coincides with the start of fan favourite ‘Brianstorm’ which sends onlookers into raptures. The scene is now awash with colourful pyrotechnics and circles have begun to open up left, right and centre. The band work away with intend and fierce intent to make sure everyone knows that the Monkeys still have it. Turner doesn’t have to sing a word and taunts the crowd to sing their hearts out. This frenzy continues throughout ‘Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’ and ‘The View From The Afternoon’.
By the time the set reaches AM’s ‘Arabella’, all involved are ready for a brief slow down in pace. The band are relishing the moment, none more so than Alex Turner who is the showman centrepiece of the whole production. He slumps and slouches around the stage, the actions of a man who is completely comfortable and is not phased by the height of expectation on the band’s shoulders. Loosely limbed, he jests with his band mates between tracks and it is clear that this is a different man to the Americanised character fans saw on the AM tour and during his second stint with the Last Shadow Puppets.
The remainder of the set features some of the classics that cemented the Monkeys as one of the great indie bands of their time. The peak of fan ecstasy is reserved for ‘Teddy Picker’ and ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ – more flares, more energy, more madness. In the distance, a fan enters a mosh-pit, crutch in hand and bursting with euphoria. This is the atmosphere that we associate with the Arctic Monkeys. The less popular Humbug record still has tracks that encourage fan singalongs proving that, realistically, the Monkeys could win over crowds with anything they play from their extensive back catalogue which is rife with quality. All guaranteed setlist features in their day, songs like ‘Mardy Bum’, ‘A Certain Romance’ and ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ have no place in the new look rockers’ only UK festival appearance of 2018 but it seems that the band and fans alike couldn’t care less.
Alex Turner re-emphasises his faith in his most recent release, giving ‘One Point Perspective’ and ‘Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino’ an outing which, again, is well received. No Arctic Monkeys fan ever thought they would be singing the lyrics “Dancing in my underpants / I’m gonna run for government / I’m gonna start a covers band, ‘n’ all” but yet here they are, hanging off every word of the puppet master, space ranger, lunar enthusiast. Miles Kane, who had played a truly blinding set earlier in the day ahead of his upcoming album ‘Coup De Grace’, returns to the stage to perform ‘505’ which confirms that the end of the set is fast approaching.
When the band return to the stage for their encore, there is enough time for Turner to take another seat at the keys for ‘Star Treatment’, another track that has hips swaying here and there. As the opener to the new album, this too holds its own well and follows the general trend that the new material thrives in a live setting. There will definitely be some doubters questioning their own initial opinions after this.
The bands true class shines through during ‘From The Ritz To The Rubble’, a fan-favourite that couldn’t be more different to the song before it but, somehow, Cook, Helders, O’Malley and Turner can effortlessly twist back into their old, fresh-faced teen indie-kid personalities. Cosmic pop or garage rock, the Arctics can’t be criticised for forgetting their roots. ‘R U Mine?’ closes the set as fans bustle together and the last of the smuggled flares are let off creating a spectacle that everyone expects from a UK festival crowd. When the time comes for the band to leave the stage, they look more godlike than ever. Masters of musical innovation, the Arctic Monkeys have made a statement to the rest of the world and it’s surrounding planets that no stage is too big. Four stars out of five just doesn’t do them justice.
Review by Murray Collie, you can follow Murray on twitter here.
Four Out of Five
Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair
The View From the Afternoon
Do Me a Favour
Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?
Tranquillity Base Hotel + Casino
One Point Perspective
Do I Wanna Know?
I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor
505 (featuring Miles Kane)
From the Ritz to the Rubble
R U Mine?