Festival season must be fast approaching as I can almost smell the lukewarm beer, cigarette smoke and those dreaded portable toilets washing over me! So in this summery spirit I am throwing it back to last years Reading Festival where Arctic Monkeys conquered the main stage with ease.
As the smoke begins to settle and the famous silhouettes become visible on stage, Arctic Monkeys open Reading Festival with the richest bassline from Do I Wanna Know that feels excellently wrong in the sticky sun. “I dreamt about you nearly every night this week”, Alex Turner purrs through the overdriven guitars and clipped drum beats that acts as a seductive slow teaser to the set. Nothing compares to his sultry Sheffield accent sliding through the venue when he questions to the crowd, “Do you want me crawling back to you?” Mirroring the lyrics flawlessly, the crowd responds with intimate hand claps and ecstatic cheering when Turner roars “READING!” back to his fans, a perfect reminder that for one night and one night only Arctic Monkeys will be effortlessly strutting across Reading Festivals main stage, like they could do it blindfolded.
Stepping on the accelerator with rumbling drums that will have your heartbeat pounding harder than the next best ecstasy pill, Brianstorm, swiftly becomes a playground of garage-rock urgency with its delicious mixture of infectious guitar riffs and danceable drums. Instantly, the crowd is shocked into action as we all collided into a steaming pile of limbs below our idols while the hypnotic ruby strobe lights transport us to a world of “dirty dance floors and dreams of naughtiness”. Whilst soaking up the atmosphere of thousands of fans chanting the iconic Brianstorm beat and absorbing the frontman strumming the guitar like his life depended on it, a permanent grin had been plastered on my face and scanning the surrounding crowd, I wasn’t the only one. This pissed off anthem completely drenched me in relief (or was that the sweat?) that today I was going to witness some of my favourite former tracks. Darkness falls as the anticipating twangs and glitches of the guitar warming up for Arabella caused me to squirm with a mixture of pleasure and pain deep in the pit of my stomach. As the lyrics, “and her lips are like the galaxy’s edge” smoulder around Turner’s sensuous vocals and melt into the Led Zeppelin tinged guitars, it’s clear that Arabella was designed to make your clothes fall off. His confidence has a reached a whole new level which is shown when he revealed to Q magazine “I’m sure fame has gone to me head, to be honest”, which didn’t come as surprise to us fans when he emerged with that Presley inspired quiff which is almost as slick as his new fashion sense. Then swapping the lyrics for the event he slurs, “Reading Festival I’m telling you, you can’t be bloody sure” as he punches his fists and grinds to the rhythm alongside bassist, Nick O’Malley. The retro grooves and sudden whirlpool of layered fuzzy guitars always makes feel like I should be in a 70’s bar drinking a martini. Just me?
“Let’s have a game on that Teddy Picker shall we?” questions our cocky frontman but no answer is required as utter bedlam is unleashed when the familiar bouncing bass line suddenly bolts the crowd into life like we had all been shot by electricity. This arena-worthy track showcases how the Arctic Monkeys have the skill to turn up the volume and kick down the doors of the record industry with the perfectly placed backing vocals and witty lyrics, that got us all questioning in 2007 who the hell are the Arctic Monkeys? As any serious live music junkie would understand, Teddy Picker had the field thrashing so hard with its wining electric guitars that develop into a brief but brilliant swirl of rock `n` roll satisfaction. Counting the crowd in with his drumsticks, Matt Helders then demonstrates his innate ability to deliver unhurried drum beats in Knee Socks alongside his bandmates husky vocals that breathe “never stopped you letting me get hold of the sweet spot” hot and heavy down the back of your neck.
Giggling to himself, our beloved rock star then begins to the tease the crowd with “I wanna play you a song off our first album, baby”, could this be the track that swept through the rock world like a tsunami and landed Arctic Monkeys the throne on the top of the music garbage heap? As soon as the clattering combination of aggressive drum beats mixed with raw searing guitars begin, the answer is yes and the crowd devour I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor like a crazy pack of hyenas which has the field thrashing so hard I thought we were going to leave a crater in the ground! By now the place feels like a punk show, as next on the bill was an extended intro of Libray Pictures where each band member goes on a rampage like a rabid Rottweiler especially when Turner counts down to the famous short and punchy lyrics, “Or an ip, dip, dog, shit, rock and roll.” With a flick of his quiff, we are then offered the bittersweet track that is When The Sun Goes Down, Turner purposely pauses the softly strummed chords to stare and gesture more cheering from the crowd which felt like the longest wait since The Libertines reunion. At last, they explode into the abrasive pounding drum beats that melt perfectly into the change of pace when he slurs the line “over the river going out of town” which I find myself instantly grinding my body along to the rhythm.
The set slightly goes downhill when No. 1 Party Anthem begins which is possibly the most disappointing track on their latest album AM, maybe perfect for a dinner party but not the music that at all comes to mind when I think of my adored rock infused Arctic Monkeys. Now I knew the next track, Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?, had to be played sooner or later which is now one of the most famous Arctic Monkeys songs known from AM, so I have always been slightly hesitant. However, witnessing the throbbing pulse that captures the bands laid back style, I found myself entranced by the addictive groove and honest lyrics that have been beautifully carved from everyday experiences. It’s another Favourite Worst Nightmare track that swings the set back on course to their original sounding roots as Fluorescent Adolescence blasts out into an eruption of good vibes. As poppy and pretty as it sounds, lyrically, this one of Arctic Monkeys finest examples of whit, attitude and punchiness as the songwriter smoothly sings, “You used to get it in your fishnets, now you only get it in your night dress”, that gives me a spring in my DM’s.
“Reading, I’m terrible at goodbyes, but please sleep sound in the knowledge that I just wanna be yours, baby”, he tantalises the crowd before coolly treating us to I Wanna Be Yours, a seductive slow jam to end the set. Not my personal highlight due to the pop friendly lyrics but how I could I not fall for this piece of dreamy perfection that fills up the venue like warm sticky syrup. Waving his hands in the air and grinding against the guitar seamlessly to the textured murky drums and smouldering synths, this image is guaranteed to leave anyone feeling hot under the collar.
Cigarette hanging from Turner’s lips, Arctic Monkeys casually strolls back onto the stage for an encore which plummets into One For The Road, a reminiscent tale for all teenagers of hazy evenings, drunken nights and uncertain endings. This slow building bluesy jam marks the first notable progression in AM with the use of backing vocals that have never been heard before in previous albums. Creating a compelling environment with glitchy electric beats and murky drums that gradually lead up to a relentless guitar solo. Naturally showcasing the raw excitement of their unpredictable rock n’ roll. “I like you very much, Reading” he declares to the crowd whilst piling on the attitude with strutting rhythms from Snap Out Of It that has us punching our fits in the air to the mind-altering groove. Hip-swivelling his way across the stage, Turner growls the lines “I wanna grab both your shoulders and shake baby, snap out of it” that has everybody mirroring his seductive moves.
Adding crunch and text to round the night off with R U Mine, my favourite track from AM as it is driven by the familiar soundings characterised in their older material with intricate clever lyrics and poured distorted guitars. As the lyrics, “misbehaving for days, great escape, lost track of time and space” unspool into a hypnotic sonic escape of thundering yet woozy guitar carousels. Pausing for an excruciating two minutes to sign for more applause whilst Matt Helders throws his drumsticks into the crowd which they fight over like pit bulls in a cage. These guys have a serious ear for dynamic riffs when they plummet into one last towering chorus that sends the crowd into a wild frenzy.
“You’re a good crowd Reading. I like you very much,” Turner declares as they blew kisses to the crowd but there are plenty of bodies left lingering after the band have weaved their way off stage. I am only slightly willing to accept Arctic Monkeys modern transition from rugged rock riffs to guitar pop infused tracks as some included on AM do resemble my much adored older material such as R U Mine and Knee Socks but let’s face it they made the best music when Turner dressed like a JD sports pikey and didn’t know what a hairdresser was! I suppose my main worry is that I don’t want them to just be nothing more than a fashion accessory that so called `fans` listen to! There are so many greater Arctic Monkey albums than AM that emphasise how this Sheffield band aren’t just another manufactured pop four piece churned and spat out by the music industry. Sit yourselves down and listen to older material full of passion such as, Whatever People Say I am, I’m Not and Favourite Worst Nightmare, then you will be able to hear how this generation defining band is full of clever witty lyrics about tales of small town England.
Thankfully, Arctic Monkeys set at Reading Festival combined old and new material flawlessly, almost like a soundtrack of many teenagers journey into adolescence. Sublime.