O2 Academy Birmingham, 14th October 2023
Following two impressive opening performances from up-and-coming rock groups Alex Ohm and The MEZZ, Antarctic Monkeys take to the stage. Amidst a roar from the crowd, Dean (the band’s frontman and Alex Turner imitator) strides up to the mic, red guitar in hand and begins to play. The iconic sounds of the opening riff to ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ fills the room as the audience yells in delight. This is what they had been waiting for.
Antarctic Monkeys began covering Sheffield’s Fab Four just four weeks after the original Monkeys released their debut LP Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not in 2006 and have kept up to date with the band’s music, stage setup, and fashion sense ever since. As someone who has been lucky to see Arctic Monkeys perform live twice – at Reading Festival in 2022 and at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton earlier this year, the band truly acted as if they were the reincarnation of Alex Turner, Matt Helders, Jamie Cook, and Nick O’Malley.
‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ ends with rapturous cheers and applause as the audience realises just how good of a cover band they are watching
Dean, in particular, has done an excellent job of acting as Turner’s doppelgänger, and his Birmingham look is no exception. Donning a black blazer and white shirt with one too many buttons undone, Dean truly embodies the laid-back, almost narcissistically cool personality of the legendary English frontman. From the way he speaks, moves his hands, and even walks around, Dean is virtually indistinguishable from Turner. If I close my eyes and just listen to the band perform, there really is no noticeable difference to the way Turner (in that distinctly sharp Sheffield accent that made him famous) and Dean (who himself hails from Wolverhampton) sing.
‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ ends with rapturous cheers and applause as the audience realises just how good of a cover band they are watching. Dean drinks in the moment of pure joy, before composing himself and launching into a ferocious performance of some of the best hits from the band’s first two albums. From the relatively deep and nostalgic cuts ‘Dancing Shoes’ and ‘Still Take You Home’, to the rip-roaring guitar on ‘Teddy Picker’ and ‘Brianstorm’, the opening section of the gig is enough to get even the tamest rock band jumping up and down. Their performance of ‘Crying Lightning’ (which has always been a personal favourite of mine) is nothing short of perfection, with Dean’s impressive vocals being able to keep up with the demanding octaves that the song requires.
There is something oddly cathartic about this moment
The band begins the next, more contemporary and AM-inspired section of the gig by convincing the crowd to ‘Snap Out of It’ and telling us the story of a girl named ‘Arabella’. Continuing the trend of playing songs from the band’s most popular album, Dean grabs a Vox 12-String guitar (the same kind that Turner would use for this particular song) from the back of the stage and begins playing the most popular guitar riff of the 21st Century. ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ elicits a primal reaction from the audience who begin chanting along in unison with the iconic guitar. The atmosphere is electric and is only going to get better from here.
‘When the Sun Goes Down’ has not appeared on any official Arctic Monkeys setlist since their 2007 Glastonbury performance, so it’s a true delight when I hear the opening line: “Said who’s that girl there?”. This is the highlight of the evening. Dean doesn’t even need to perform the introduction to the song, with the crowd (me included) singing every line perfectly, all building up to the introduction of the guitar and drums after the line: “Said he’s a scumbag don’t you know”. There is something oddly cathartic about this moment, an audience of roughly 2,500 singing along to one of the most famous British songs since the fall of Britpop. Certainly, it’s a moment I’m never going to forget.
The closing sections of the concert include songs such as ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’, ‘A Certain Romance’, ‘Mardy Bum’, and ‘Pretty Visitors’. The tender love ballad ‘Cornerstone’ is also played much to my personal delight, before the band delves into the hauntingly mysterious ‘505’. Only one song from the band’s last two albums, ‘Body Paint’ is played, although this is understandable when one considers that Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino and The Car were not recorded with the intention of being played live as much as their earlier work.
The intimate setting of Birmingham’s O2 Academy is a perfect place to see them
As ‘505’ ends and the audience recovers from what has been eighty minutes of pure excitement, Dean asks the crowd one final question – “R U Mine?”. The rock anthem is a fitting close to the show, after all, it is the song most often picked by Turner to end his concerts. However, there is one more surprise in store for me and the Birmingham audience. ‘R U Mine?’ ends, but it’s clear that the crowd wants, no, needs, more. Dean, in an act that was certainly planned beforehand, approaches the mic for the final time with an air of reluctance before proclaiming that they’re going to play one last song.
“It’s called I….” he pauses before yelling “Bet You Look Good on The Dancefloor!”. The crowd explodes. What better way to end a tribute to Arctic Monkeys than by playing the song that launched them to fame over nineteen years ago?
Whilst I would have loved to see them perform more songs from Suck it and See rather than just ‘Don’t Sit Down Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’, Antarctic Monkeys were a fantastic band to see live. I would recommend them to anyone, whether they are a diehard fan of Arctic Monkeys or only know them from the ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ riff being used in Ford adverts. The intimate setting of Birmingham’s O2 Academy is a perfect place to see them, as it captures what I can only imagine to be the atmosphere of Arctic Monkeys’ original gigs back in 2005-06, especially when they played songs from the debut album. To Dean and the rest of Antarctic Monkeys, thank you for being a faithful and true tribute to one of the greatest British bands of all time and for providing me and 2,500 other people with a night to remember.