Concert review: Arctic Monkeys

Arctic Monkeys perform at the Verizon Center in Washington DC as part of their first arena tour.

VIENNA, Va., March, 13, 2012—Not everyone in attendance at the Verizon Center may have realized it, but Arctic Monkeys are actually well versed at playing arena shows.  Despite this being their first time touring the States as part of an arena tour where they’re opening for the Black Keys, it’s something they’re relatively familiar with back in their native England and around Europe.

Popularity, of course, takes on different forms depending on where a band is playing.  Arctic Monkeys have enjoyed quite a bit of success in the U.S. but nothing compared to what they have faced back home. In the U.S. they’ve become something of a niche/independent/underground sensation of a band, especially around 2007, whereas their first two albums went platinum a combined six times in the U.K.

There’s a certain level of freedom that comes with this amount of relative obscurity.  Arctic Monkeys can be assured the audience will know who they are to a degree, but not be intimate with the details of the band and their songs. While it might mean the audience won’t be as familiar with their material as an audience back home, it also allows for a lack of expectations and opens up several possibilities for their live set.

Case in point, the opening song of the night was “Brainstorm” off their second album Favourite Worst Nightmare, which is their biggest hit in the U.S. There are two thoughts about going this route. One, the band is opening with a song they know for a fact the audience will know and will easily draw in them in to the set as quickly as possible.  Two, it gets the song everyone is expecting out of the way and gives Arctic Monkeys some unpredictability to work with during the rest of their set.

Arctic Monkeys aren’t really an unpredictable band though, not in a traditional sense anyway. The style they play seems to be smorgasbord of British guitar pop, where they incorporate the various elements in its history into their sound. Everything from the Jam to the Libertines mashed together into a quick angular guitar sound arranged in short bursts of calculated noise.

Although Arctic Monkeys do enough to separate themselves from those influences which so determined to define them. There’s a lack of pretentiousness with the band, having a strict rock mentality when it comes to their live set. At no point during their set do they over do things, everything is to the point with minimal fuss.

Arctic Monkeys aren’t a band to smirk at their own cleverness. They are by no means a plodding band but they refuse to hit the audience over the head with how smart they might be. Instead they adopt a more workmanlike attitude, which might have something to do with their acknowledgement of being the opening band.

This isn’t to say the band is practicing drudgery in their live set. The songs are smart and the band has a clearly understanding of what they want to do. Where some bands tend to hang on to certain points, languishing in an attempt to make sure everyone got their point, Arctic Monkeys are content to just move on and not be mired in an obscure piece of a song or set which would drive the audience away.

Arctic Monkeys did seem to have some early nervousness in their set but it was quickly dispatched as they moved forward. This distinctly British band showed that even without being major forces in the U.S. mainstream music scene, they’re still able entertain American audiences.

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener. Read more of his work in Riffs at the Washington Times Communities.



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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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