Arctic Monkeys at 3Arena, Dublin Monday 24th of September, 2018
“I just wanted to be one of The Strokes”.
That’s the first line in Star Treatment, the track that opens both Arctic Monkeys latest album and tonight’s encore, but it’s not a sentiment I’m sure Mr. Alex Turner would still share.
While both bands started in similar manners as guitar-led acts who beautifully captured the microcosms of their hometowns – New York City for The Strokes and Sheffield for the Monkeys. Successive albums saw them both flex their creative muscles, shake up their styles and move beyond debut albums that threatened to define them, but for The Strokes, it was all diminishing returns. Arctic Monkeys were another story, with their most popular album, ‘AM’, coming on their fifth try.
We’re here tonight on the first of a two-night stint in Dublin’s 3Arena as they tour the follow-up to ‘AM’, the snappily titled ‘Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino’, a piano-led, lounge record about a hotel on the moon. We’re definitely not in Sheffield anymore.
What we get is a career-spanning set across their six studio albums that’s very light on surprises. The band is out to please tonight, and please they do. We’re eased in with the meandering lead-single 4 Out Of 5, where it’s clear Turner and Co. won’t be alone tonight. The musical backing has been significantly beefed up, with an extra four musicians who come and go on combinations of guitar, keys, percussion and backing vocals.
The loose start doesn’t last as the ferocious Brianstorm follows shortly and brings us from zero to sixty in an instant, with drummer Matt Hedler’s octopus drumming. It’s followed by the lumbering and muscular Crying Lighting, the hyper-tense Teddy Picker and a slightly slower take on Dancing Shoes.
There are obvious stylistic changes as they move through their 12-year back catalogue; going from sneering, hyper-observational indie-punk through to fuzzy desert blues to sure-footed, stadium-sized rock to their latest incarnation of lounge room crooners.
That latest turn is the definite outlier here in terms of sonic makeup and crowd response. 4 Out Of 5 had it easy being both the single and the show’s opener. Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino, Star Treatment, One Point Perspective, and Science Fiction all have mid-tempo, slinky grooves that are delivered note-perfect but sadly come with a serious drop in engagement. There’s scattered, polite applause but its clear minds are elsewhere during.
Perhaps an approach similar to the late, great Bobby Womack would work better. On his 2014 tour, the first third of his set was dedicated to his electronic collaboration with Damon Alburn before returning to the stage to deliver a career-spanning set. It was a move that stopped the two very different styles from clashing throughout the gig.
When they do hit the mark, however, it’s a sight to behold. The sinister Don’t Sit Down Cos I Moved Your Chair starts with a sure-footed Turner solo on vocals and guitar before Jamie Cook teases feedback from his guitar, before the rest of band return with a towering wall of sound that threatens to smother all in attendance.
The hip-swaying swagger of Do I Wanna Know? commands attention, and attention it gets. From the thunderous kick drum and seductive guitar intro; all eyes, ears, and phones are fixated on the stage. The extra musical muscle on-stage helps beef up an already hefty song.
Their second last song, I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor, feels frantic and scattered when compared with closer R U Mine?, which composes itself with a more measured energy. Its guitars are blistering, the tom runs are pummelling and the tempo is slow enough to command a singalong without feeling at all sluggish or strained.
A career-spanning treat from Sheffield’s finest moon-based casino owners.