“Middle of adventure, such a perfect place to start…”
Although they did not play “505” in Berlin, let me use this line from said song to jump right into the experience that was the Arctic Monkeys concert at the Columbiahalle, my third time seeing them live and second full concert since 2007’s performance at the Stadtpark in Hamburg (their last time in my hometown). Because as I was squeezed in between 3,000 sweating, jumping, air-punching bodies when they played the first song I ever heard by them, I was thrown right back to that moment when it all began, my introduction to a band that has always been one of my favourites since that day in 2005. I was in my parents’ kitchen –I still lived at home, obviously, at 16– and the crappy white radio that stopped working after a few years but I guess is still there because no one bothered to take it down was tuned to Delta Radio. I suppose as it was evening and I was in the kitchen alone I was either setting the table for dinner (or “Abendbrot”, evening bread, as we say in Germany) or clearing it, and this song came on. I had never heard it before, or heard of the band for that matter, but it was one of those songs that from the first second on you can jump around to like crazy, even if it’s the very first time you’re listening to it. It was the music version of love at first sight, so to speak. Not much later, their album was on my Christmas wishlist, regardless that it was only going to be released in January. I got the single instead, possibly the last single I ever got that wasn’t a promo. Fast forward eight years and five albums, and this song, “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor”, is still an integral part of their live setlist. Many bands get tired of their big hit after a few years, especially if they’ve evolved musically in the way the Monkeys have. But this kind of fanservice proves that even though they are gel-haired, sharp-suited men who occassionally perform with a string section on stage now, the Arctic Monkeys are still fucking devoted to their fans as their fans are to them, and even though I’ve been waiting in vain for another Hamburg show for six years now, they do return to Germany regularly and have played Hurricane Festival in 2011 and 2013, at least.
Their first album is a classic of my generation, and I’m not sure if I had realised, up to this day in Berlin, just how beloved it is, not only in the UK but also here in Germany. Still, a big part of the people who embraced “Whatever People Say I Am…” turned their backs on the band by the time “Humbug” was released – a development that’s epitomized by German band Kraftklub’s use of the line “…und Josh Homme hätte nie die Arctic Monkeys produziert”, explicitly stating the wish that “Josh Homme had never produced the Arctic Monkeys”. I don’t think anyone understands my agony about one of the worst and most undeservedly successful bands of my embarrassing country getting away with singing about how they wish one of my favourite albums had never been made – I mean really, make your sucky music all you want, but leave my favourite records alone! Personal resentments aside, I believe many Monkeys listeners are with Kraftklub on this one, wishing AM would just continue to blast out dancefloor stompers like the seminal “I Bet You Look Good …”, “Dancing Shoes” or “Brianstorm” instead of tender, lyrically exquisite works like “Cornerstone”, “She’s Thunderstorms” or “Fire And The Thud”. Everyone who is genuinely interested in and open-minded towards music, however, will at least appreciate that AM continue to develop their sound on every album. Because putting out variations of “Whatever People Say I Am…” would have ensured they had been forgotten by 2008, like the majority of their peers.
Instead, the Monkeys’ return to Germany causes quite a buzz: When we arrive, the short areal in front of the sold out Columbiahalle is filling up rapidly with people blocking the entire sidewalk. A couple of boys sing along to the latest album playing on their mobile phone with such flawlessness one hopes that an A&R is nearby, signing them on the spot. Later, I discover several faces from the Hamburg scene in the crowd; now tell me again how no one would come to a Hamburg show if they’ve “already played Hurricane”. Finally in front of the stage, the situation immediately gets uncomfortable. The drunken concert tourists from Scandinavia making out next to me are only half as bad as the constant squeezing and pushing, people trying to get to the front even though there is not half an inch of space left between anyone and their neighbours. Once the show has started and I spend the first six songs trying to stay on my feet and maybe snap a photo or two for the blog as well without losing my whole possessions, I get gradually pushed back until I’m somewhere in the middle of the concert hall, where finally I can breathe and not have to have constant body contact. Also staying on my feet gets a lot easier; still I get away with a twenty-centimetre bruise on my upper arm that I can’t recall getting. It reminds me of the days when moshing was part of my usual concert experience, when I always carried a change of shirt for after the show, and bruises at least weren’t as bad as coming out bleeding.
But now to the actual show. The opener is, finally, someone not entirely unknown (I’m extremely unlucky when it comes to decent support acts): Irish baby Beatles The Strypes take the stage by storm, but the crowd is hard to impress; after all they are here for one of the biggest rock bands of their time. Plus, the average age of the crowd is way past twenty, which cannot be said of the teenage quartet on stage. However, The Strypes are incredibly advanced for their tender age; the only thing one could blame them for is playing the same song over and over again. Other than that, they are brilliant fun, have sing-along choruses en masse, and if you could only move, then yes, you would dance.
I should perhaps mention that whether this concert would even take place or not had been unclear until the day of the show; several concerts in the UK and the Offenbach gig a day earlier had to be cancelled due to Alex Turner’s infection with laryingitis, the Offenbach date even without rescheduling. Logically, we were nervous wrecks just until the point the Monkeys actually entered the stage. Surprisingly though, Turner’s voice was as smooth as ever, he even talked between songs, which we hadn’t expected as he should probably save his voice for singing. If you didn’t know, you wouldn’t have noticed he had been sick.
They opened with “Do I Wanna Know” followed by a bunch of earlier smash hits including “Dancing Shoes”, “Teddy Picker” and “Brianstorm”. By now they have such a mass of material that they can fill a whole setlist only with singles, plus of course there were several tracks from current album “AM”: all the singles (“R U Mine?” being the final highlight) plus what I bet will be the next, “Arabella”, including Alex’s very particular choreography (look it up on YouTube if you want to have a laugh) as well as “Fireside”, “No. 1 Party Anthem” and my personal favourite “Snap Out Of It”. To my delight, “Pretty Visitors” was on the setlist as well (I’m past the point where I expect them to play certain favourites of mine, I know I’ll never get to hear “This House Is A Circus” live again). Another highlight was a slow, acoustic version of “Mardy Bum”, which perfectly fit the more grown-up image the band now have, even though they wrote it as teenagers.
At their last headline show I went to, the Arctic Monkeys were a bunch of shy, pimply boys who didn’t know how to act when a barricade crashed and the concert had to be interrupted, and just stood around on stage awkwardly until told to resume. Back then they weren’t really known for being a great live band, and there still is very little action on stage (and zero interaction between band members, apart from Alex introducing his fellow musicians to the crowd) – it’s very much a one-man show, now that Turner has mastered his frontman job in his very own way. Even extroverted drummer and co-vocalist Matt Helders up on his pedestal remains in the background behind Turner’s clumsy dance moves and exquisite quiff, while guitarist Jamie Cook and bassist Nick O’Malley prefer hiding in the shadows and their glorious beards. However, no one would dare to claim that they’re not a good live act these days, the glitz and glamour of the giant, illuminated letters “AM” at the back of the stage doing their part along with an elaborate light show.
Alex Turner still has something of that Sheffield schoolboy behind the glamorous façade; even though these days you won’t catch him singing “he’s pinched me bird” (from 2005 b-side “Bigger Boys And Stolen Sweethearts”), his Northern accent as well as his dry sense of humour and slurring shyness ensure that authenticity which makes it just impossible to not like him. He’s a global superstar but one who you can bet has both his feet on the ground, and I’m saying this even though I once waited two hours in the cold for him to come out after another Berlin show, this time with The Last Shadow Puppets, and he and Miles Kane just disappeared into a taxi without signing a single autograph. I’ve never waited for Alex again but I did bully Miles twice into signing autographs and taking pictures with me after that, hehe.
I admit I’m not the kind of fan I once was; I don’t learn lyrics with the same dedication (I still don’t think I’ve mastered an entire Monkeys album, to be honest) and I didn’t even know who stood where on stage, but I do have a deep love for this band, both because they have the best lyrics I know and because they’ve never truly disappointed, musically. Almost every band has at least one lazy album up their sleeve but not these guys. Each of their songs has elegance, charm and truth to it, and I have never once thought “but I hate it that they only play huge arena shows for €40 and never come on tour elsewhere than Berlin and only play festivals and gahgahgah”, all I’ve ever thought is that the world can’t have such a sucky taste in music after all if the Arctic Monkeys get this big.