With Saint Motel
First Avenue, Minneapolis
February 14, 2014
It would seem that Arctic Monkeys have put as much creative distance as they can between themselves and the firebrand sound of their early days. The Sheffield, England quartet returned to a very sold-out First Avenue for the fourth time on Friday night. Over the years, they have steadily changed the sonic direction of their material, as well as their road-tested stage show.
During an uneven 90-minute set, it became quite apparent that the irrepressible pub anthems from their youth are still the best jams that the band has. Those numbers were mostly replaced by moody, simmering songs forming the crux of their recent output during the group's polished but somewhat somnambulistic set.
As atmospheric music and a mercurial cloud of smoke filled the room, Arctic Monkeys took the stage to a well-lubricated Friday night ovation. The demand for this show was sky high since the moment the gig was announced, and tickets sold out in a flash. So the moment that the sinister first notes of "Do I Wanna Know?" rang out, the club went off.
AM's affable frontman Alex Turner -- who had his hair greased back like a rockabilly Elvis and donned a fitted leather jacket -- worked a quick introduction of the band between verses of "Brianstorm," as he stood assuredly on the side of the stage, urging the audience on. The band has had a good working relationship with Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme, and his influence colors much of the group's new direction, including "Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair," which took on a welcome guitar-fueled edge. Turner even mockingly did the Macarena dance to correspond to his lyrics, and shouted, "I moved your chair, Minneapolis!" to goad the crowd to get into it.
"All right! Thank you!" Turner exclaimed as everyone caught their collective breath. "It's great to be here tonight. It's Friday night and the fucking Arctic Monkeys are in Minneapolis! Do you feel good? Yeah, so do I." And with that, the band eased into the bouncy, soul-infused tempo of "Snap Out Of It," the first of many moments where the momentum built up on previous songs lagged considerably. "This one is for all the lovers on Valentine's Day," Turner declared, before the band ushered in the slinky tones of "Pretty Visitors," which failed to find much of a spark, despite drummer Matt Helders pounding rhythms, something even Turner excitedly took note of mid-song. "Matt Helders on the drums, Minneapolis. Holy shit!"
Turner had a flamboyant carnival barker-like level of showmanship throughout the performance, consistently working Minneapolis into his between song banter to elicit lusty cheers from the crowd while proving to us all that he, in fact, knew exactly where he was. "Know what I mean, Minneapolis?" Turner asked us, though most were unsure of exactly what he was on about. "Absolutely! How are all the girls tonight in Minneapolis? This one's specifically for the ladies." The band tore into "I Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor," which got everyone moving as best they could in the tight confines of the packed club.
Alex then lost his leather jacket as well as his guitar's whammy-bar as he joked lasciviously, "I rocked me whammy off on that last one." Guitarist Jamie Cook then switched to acoustic guitar for the Latin-tinged "Fireside," as the stage appropriately was bathed in smoke and red lighting. But again, the rapid tempo of the set took a noticeable dip, and took a while to work its way out of the lull. "Knee Socks" was tepid and directionless, but did elicit a cheer following Turner's line, "Well, you cured my January blues," as everyone identified with the desire to put the winter months behind them.
A funky version of "Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?" injected some life into the set, but its leisurely pace wasn't going to fully ignite the crowd. "Minneapolis, I want to tell you about a girl called Arabella," Turner proclaimed, as the group launched into "Arabella," which is built on a wicked riff that echoes early Sabbath. The band eventually copped to that clear influence by working in a few bars of "War Pigs" at the end. "Dancing Shoes" kept the fire lit, but a psych-rock flavored "Old Yellow Bricks" again erased the set's dynamic charge.
The band have become so well-oiled and tight by this point in their career that they have lost some of that youthful unpredictability. "Crying Lightning" came off rather rote and routine, as the band sounded like they were coasting at this point.
A tepid take on "I Wanna Be Yours" was the night's unequivocal low point, but thankfully the inspired one-two punch of "Fluorescent Adolescent" and "505" ended the set on a welcome high note, with Turner dedicating both songs "to all the girls" as he injected some added sex appeal into songs that were already bursting with it. After a lengthy encore break, the band returned for another slow number, "Cornerstone," which was stylishly augmented by two disco balls on the side of the stage casting streams of light around the club while Turner warmheartedly serenaded us behind his acoustic guitar.
A plodding, bass-driven take on "One For the Road" dragged the encore down considerably, before Turner announced, "I've got one last question for you, Minneapolis? Are you mine?" And with that, the band closed out the night with a spirited, if a bit conventional, take on "R U Mine?" The band soaked in the loud ovation from the packed house, and were off with a series of affectionate waves to the audience.
Who knows if the time has indeed come when Arctic Monkeys have outgrown what has consistently been their Minneapolis home over seven years of touring? Based on the heated demand for this show, they could have easily sold out First Ave three-times over if they had wanted. But one thing is clear, for better or worse, the band have brazenly moved beyond the rousing, irreverent songs of their youth in favor of a sound that is far more saturnine and slow-burning, and they aren't all that interested in looking back.
Personal Bias: I have seen every local show Arctic Monkeys have put on over the years (including their 2011 gig with the Vaccines as well as their opening stint with the Black Keys at Target Center in 2012), and while I appreciate their growth and sense of experimentation with their sound, I still have a soft spot for the untamed songs from their first couple records, and was sad that more of them didn't find their way onto the setlist.
The Crowd: A drunk Friday night crowd fired up to see Arctic Monkeys on Valentine's Day.
Overheard In The Crowd: "I need help getting through -- I've got too many beers in my hand."
Random Notebook Dump: The Orwells were initially supposed to be the opening act for the show, but they picked up a gig on the Weezer cruise, so L.A.'s Saint Motel filled in with a rather innocuous opening set.
Do I Wanna Know?
Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair
Snap Out Of It
I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor
Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?
Old Yellow Bricks
Do Me A Favour
I Wanna Be Yours
One For The Road
R U Mine?