In my review of their fifth studio album, AM, I emphasised how, in what seems like only a year or two, the Arctic Monkeys, and specifically Alex Turner, have transformed from being a band from Sheffield who write songs about being in the queue to get into a nightclub or waiting on a taxi for the trip home after a night on the lash, to a band who write songs with psychedelia and paranoia as their subject. They now sell out arenas both here and across the Atlantic, draw more influence from 50s Americana than any time period in British music history and have developed styled personas of leather trouser sporting, suit wearing, grease haired rock and rollers. In their Glastonbury headline set, they mixed only a few new songs with this new performance characterisation and it still shone through. One laryngitis recovery later, they ended their tour in Glasgow, with a whole host of other new songs at the ready, and this adopted spirit engulfed their set.
The main reason for this seems to be Alex Turner – he is more outgoing, more charismatic and more charming than their earlier days. It is exaggerated to the point of parody, but actually it brings something, an intangible quality, to their live show that they lacked before Turner turned up on the cover of NME with an Elvis tribute quiff. At the Hydro they really stomped and rocked, the new tunes holding much greater weight. They played only a handful of pre-Humbug tunes, dumping the likes of “When the Sun Goes Down” and “Fake Tales of San Francisco”. Of the ones they did perform, some were a nice success (“Old Yellow Bricks”, “Dancing Shoes”) while others, such as “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor”, were a damp squib. Turner fluffed the first line and simply waved his arms in apology. This is either a sign that the rock star lifestyle is getting to him or an indicator of apathy towards some of their older material.
Signs that the band prefers the new songs (which have greater heft and quality) to the old ones (which seem more throwaway and fluffy than they did on their release) were littered throughout the performance. The Arctic Monkeys have grown up and so have their fans. The now compulsory acoustic rendition of “Mardy Bum” remained but it was burned out of my memory by how great the sparse electronic drumming and northern poetry of “I Wanna Be Yours” was (complete with golden rays of light and showering confetti for a pre-encore finale). When Turner told everyone to get on their dancing shoes, it was fun, but not as fun as the harmonic coos of “One for the Road” or the catchy chorus of “Snap Out of It”.
Turner exhibited some oddball behaviour throughout, some of it endearing, some of it annoying. Suit-clad and energetic, his half American, half northern English drawl like some monochrome 50s chat show host has the ability to draw you in – he has become a true performer. But then when he introduced six songs in a row with “this one’s for the girls” I began to wonder if he was drunk, high or being knowingly idiotic. It stood out for me, attending the gig as a critic and not just a fan, but in a way it added to the experience – it really felt like a show, not just four lads playing music. This wasn’t surprising – they’ve been like this for a while now – but seeing them play in that way in the flesh made me pretty proud. The Arctic Monkeys are perhaps our biggest, if not our greatest, current musical export and it’s great to see them having finally come out of their shell, evolving and playing music that really suits the band they are now and enjoy being. They’ve been a polished stage presence, playing their instruments well and replicating songs to perfection, on a consistent basis but this gig at the Hydro showed the side of live performance that is needed to be a truly great band, the side which isn’t all well-fitting, join the dots music playing – a shambolic energy, flowing charisma and a confidence that is too bright not to take notice of. Turner’s exaggerated showmanship blurs the line that all great frontmen do between being gratingly annoying and extraordinarily absorbing, but it is turning this band – the one who got popular on MySpace because of their everyman appeal and who have two 10/10 albums from NME – into a band that is more interesting, more ragged round the edges and more capable of leaving behind a legacy that is worthy of retrospective.