“Dance as if somebody’s watching, ‘cause they are.” The line, perhaps the self-parodic marker of Arctic Monkeys’ latest album, Tranquillity Base Hotel and Casino, is an embodiment of their approach to performing these days. Here is a band whose journey from breakthrough youngsters in a time where indie-rock reigned to legendary genre-leaders in a period of its perceived demise is one of the most infamous in recent British music history. It has left them perhaps unique among the wave of noughties success stories in still being able to instantly sell out massive tours. Today, an Arctic Monkeys show will guarantee extravagant busting of moves, unashamedly, in front of thousands, a far cry from their humble eyes-to-the-floor beginnings.
There is another, far more obvious, distinction. The songs themselves. Tranquillity Base debuts a first for the rockers, in that none of its songs make an obvious single, aside from (at a stretch) set-opener ‘Four Out of Five’. In a room this large, it can’t be denied that these piano ballads, perhaps unfairly often dubbed as Alex Turner solo tracks, are somewhat shoved into the corner of fans’ attention when thrust into a setlist which also features ‘I Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor’. Chatter rises when the band launches into slow and soft ‘Star Treatment’, inadvertently creating a miniature interval in the show’s flow. ‘Batphone’ goes further in becoming the point during which several fans choose to take their obligatory group photos for the ‘Gram. Whilst excellent, these are tracks you can imagine being played by the old crooner in the corner of a lonely bar in the heart of America. Knowing Turner, it’s not unreasonable to assume this is how they were intentionally written.
It is the songs taken from the outfit’s extensive discography which have lingered as setlist staples for years that really get 21,000 voices passionately warbling along. From the early days and standing the test of time, ‘Dancing Shoes’ and ‘Brianstorm’ instigate a frenzy. Tracks from 2013’s AM inevitably wind up the audience energy, from smash hit singalong ‘Do I Wanna Know’, to a show-closer of ‘R U Mine?’. And how do you mix up the tracks everyone just expects to be thrown in there? Add an elongated, remixed, fast-pace ending, as with tonight’s dose of ‘505’.
Whilst they have the talent to pull it off with ease, the fact that Arctic Monkeys insist on playing songs that they know are in no way designed for an arena inside of an arena manifests their insistence to remain immersed in their long-standing approach of doing only what they want to do. The fact that fans who have not even bothered to learn the lyrics to the new songs still buy tickets in their thousands to hear the old ones prove that even after all this time and evolution, here is a band that just aren’t going anywhere.