“Let’s go back to the 1980’s, Alex Turner says into a muffled microphone – a rare comment between songs at the Manchester Arena last night. It’s the opening night of the Arctic Monkeys first UK tour of 2018, their last being at London’s Royal Albert Hall in June. As Turner sang the opening lyrics to ‘Dancing Shoes’ – the first time the song has been performed since 2014 – the arena erupted; songs from their 2006 debut, Whatever People Say I am, That’s What I’m Not prove as popular now as they did at the start of the band’s career.
Unlike many of the indie-landfill counterparts of their defining era, The Arctic Monkeys evolved, dramatically, with few expecting their latest Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino to be the stylistic sea change it really was. They’ve done it previously with AM, an album that tore up what went before and started anew, earning them legions of new fans in the US in the process. But with Tranquility Base, the step forward went even further: sci-fi lounge replacing earthy, pugnacious guitar rock, Turner sitting somewhere between his two fellow Sheffield counterparts, Jarvis Cocker and Richard Hawley.
Opening with ‘Four out of Five’ was in many ways the litmus test for the new material, on this, the first tour of the new material proper: would fans of the band’s rockier roots come along for the ride to the intergalactic hotel or would they check out? The opener certainly suggested the former as the Manchester audience echoed Turner’s every lyric, note perfect with the popularity of the new material proving dazzling for most.
It would have been good to see more of Tranquility Base at this stage, not least because the setting did such a good job of transporting the audience to a different 60’s-esque era, mirroring the album’s vintage tones so well. Hexagonal retro lights and slick dancehall-like staging ensured fans travelled to the past; circular lit-up lettering spelling ‘Monkeys’ adorned the top of the stage, a retro theatrical sign from a by-gone era.
It felt as though more new material would follow, yet it didn’t for a while. ‘Brianstorm’ from Favourite Worst Nightmare suddenly appeared and the jolt from soaring croons to frenetic rock felt marked. Fans of older material bounced, fans of newer material responded a little more uneasily. The excellent ‘Snap Out of It’ and ‘Crying Lightening’ did a better job of marrying the two eras of their career, yet it was the songs from Tranquility Base that truly impressed. The title tracked wowed, as did ‘Batphone’ and ‘One Point Perspective.’
Turner adopted his usual array of diverse personas throughout –part 60’s crooner, part indie-rocker, part-tongue-in-cheek everyman retro performer, yet no matter what stance he took, the audience responded with equal glee. This was a career-spanning set – material from all albums featured – and hits aplenty featured to please everyone, including of course their breakout track ‘I Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor’, its raw energy and power still as pertinent as when it was first released. Another highlight was the infectious ‘Pretty Visitors’ which came before, it setting up the end of the set well.
‘Star Treatment’ with its wonderful opening line “I just wanted to be one of the Strokes” opened the encore yet it was perhaps here where the biggest divide between old and new material was visible. Newer fans immersed themselves in Turner’s every word, older fans were still recovering from ‘Dancefloor’ and the song didn’t resonate with all. Throughout the night, the band carefully weaved new material into their old in what felt like a set of transition – of wanting to gently introduce new material whilst not forgetting the hits.
The result of this, however, was that the excellent new material on occasion could feel a little lost, hidden between blinding indie bangers save for a mid-set period where Tranquility Base material was given due prominence. Perhaps it was nervousness about the new material, perhaps it's wanting to keep everyone happy. The new songs are so good, so very good, much of the audience would have been happy to see a full immersive Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino experience. For now, fans will have to settle for a space between two worlds, between the alien and the familiar. Few bands can bring such a volume of new fans to their fanbase in the second decade of their career as the Artic Monkeys have managed to do so with ease; their continued evolution is one of the most interesting stories in music at present.
Arctic Monkeys played:
1. Four out of Five
3. Snap Out Of It
4. Crying Lightning
5. Teddy Picker
7. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
8. Do Me A Favour
9. Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair
10. Dancing Shoes
11. One Point Perspective
13. Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?
14. Knee Socks
16. Do I Wanna Know?
17. Pretty Visitors
18. I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor
19. Star Treatment
21. R U Mine?