Walking through chilly Central Sheffield with my Warwick chum George, it struck me how well Arctic Monkeys’ early music – especially their now-legendary first album Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not – suited their native town. This is the cold, smoky Sheffield of trackie bottoms, nights out, “totalitarian” bouncers, and cheap booze and, as Alex Turner points out, “it’s a little different around here.” But Arctic Monkeys have plucked the starkness of real-life Sheffield and woven it into musical myth.
We are at the FlyDSA Arena to hear Arctic Monkeys perform in their native town on the last leg of their UK tour, following sparkling performances at TRNSMT and the Royal Albert Hall. But first, The Lemon Twigs open the set. They’re an American rock group, founded by brothers Brian and Michael D’Addario. The lead singer – elaborately attired in a green shirt and neckerchief – displays an impressive and alarming repertoire of facial tics and bodily contortions. On stage, limbs fly everywhere. Legs are thrown over heads; spindly arms double-back on themselves; jaws swing wildly.
The first notes of the band’s early guitar-heavy tunes are met with adulation by screaming fans
While this scene from The Exorcist unfolds on stage, I notice that, annoyingly, he is bare-chested. This fills me with exasperation, especially when he ties a knot in his shirt half-way through the gig, making him look like Britney Spears in the video for ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’. When will singers learn that, since Morrissey, no artist – no-one – has come up with a new and exciting way of not wearing clothes? Nor can it be said that The Lemon Twigs’ music is particularly original or inspiring. In fact, it teeters on the insipid: at one point, the frontman croons a chorus consisting largely of “You’re beautiful… you’re beautiful…” Yuck. Nonetheless, they served their purpose as a warm-up act, and a colossal crowd was seething with excitement as half-past eight rolled around.
As instruments are tuned, the atmosphere crackles with excitement. Suddenly: darkness. The curtains flash red in time with the pulsating opening notes of ‘Four Out of Five’. Silhouetted figures stride onto the stage. An explosion of spotlights reveals the band. Alex Turner throws up a peace sign. A few compulsory swigs from a can of Carling later, and they’re off. Though ‘Four Out of Five’ is a slower song, the crowd belts out the sultry chorus (“Take it easy for a little while / Come and stay with us”). The arena sings along to the iconic opening riff on ‘Brianstorm’, too, and the first notes of their early guitar-heavy tunes are met with adulation by screaming fans. It’s difficult to stay stood up as hundreds of people surge toward the front – I had to be hauled off the cup-strewn floor from the mesh of bodies by a friendly mosher – but danger to life reaches its peak when the crowd hears the unforgettable lines, “Last night these two bouncers/one of ‘em’s alright, the other one’s the scary one/his way or no way, totalitarian” which opens ‘From the Ritz to the Rubble’.
Arctic Monkeys’ choice of songs is masterly, a brilliant tactical manoeuvre deliberately calibrated to leave no fan disappointed
Lovers of their early music enjoy ‘Dancing Shoes’ and a stripped-down rendition of ‘A Certain Romance’ and ‘Humbug’ aficionados appreciate the inclusion of ‘Pretty Visitors’ and ‘Crying Lightning’; the band also play ‘Arabella’, ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ and ‘Number One Party Anthem’ (“from our fifth studio LP,” says Alex Turner in his inimitable twang) for followers of ‘AM’, After a worrying five-minute break, they return for their encore: ‘Star Treatment’, ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’ and ‘R U Mine?’
The golden thread running through all these tunes is lyrical mastery. Their pace, choice of instruments, even the members of the band themselves – all of these have changed. But Turner’s fast-paced, rap-like lines on the outfit’s first album have been replaced by slicker words on subsequent albums, and which have in turn been dislodged by the sexier, lovelorn lyrics of their last two albums. Alex Turner’s skill as a wordsmith only improves with age.
Arctic Monkeys are peerless performers. It’s easy to see why people up and down the country woke up early to spend a nervous morning refreshing Ticketmaster for £70 tickets to see them live. After considering their meteoric rise to stardom, and their continued ascent to legend, I left their arena certain that boasting “I saw Arctic Monkeys in Sheffield” will eventually acquire the same glittering status as seeing The Smiths in Manchester or The Beatles in Liverpool.