Last weekend, Finsbury Park was besieged by a storm of kaleidoscopic Rock & Roll, and more mod-worthy haircuts and Turner-esque quiffs than you could possibly fathom. The run-up to the ‘gig of the year’ was characterised by a culmination of exaggerated expectations, and Turner himself confirming its ostensible definitive mark in their career by stating to NME that ‘it will be different to anything else we’ve done so far’.
The realisation of such expectations turned out to be something of a paradox, in fact the set list, (with the exception of the acoustic rendition of A Certain Romance, and Miles and Alex’s Last Shadow Puppets collaboration) was the antithesis of a one-off, unique, and exclusive show. It was the support of Tame Impala, Miles Kane and Royal Blood which constituted to some sense of exclusivity, of which sparked a festival atmosphere, and the feeling that this was a celebration and an accolade to the long-running, and seemingly uninterrupted success of the Sheffield quartet. Whilst Alex, Matt, Jamie and Nick delivered a well rehearsed, and near impeccable performance, it was lacking spontaneity, too often falling into the territory of the all-too familiar, and predictable.
Akin to their Glastonbury set and the rest of their AM shows, the band opened the show with the muscular and stompy single ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ As soon as Alex played the instantly recognisable intro, the crowd chanted with zeal along to the riff, which is a definitive marker for anyone who plays the guitar for a living. The White Stripes managed to evoke the same ardent response with the legendary, stompy intro to ‘Seven Nation Army’. The rest of the set was seemingly that of a unanimous crowd-pleaser, marrying the old with the new, and including tracks such as ‘Arabella’ and earlier singles such as ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’, which engulfed the fans on a nostalgic venture to the beginning of the Arctic Monkeys triumphant journey. However, there was clearly something missing which ceased to aid the show in defining itself as unparalleled to anything else they’ve done before. Alex Turner’s penchant for smooth ad libs in his insouciant persona became painstakingly tedious, particularly if, like me, you saw Arctic Monkeys last year on their ‘AM’ tour. This became all too apparent in the highlight of the night, when Alex Turner performed ‘A Certain Romance’, a single from their embryonic days as the young, fresh faces of indie Rock & Roll, and used the same line as he used in his Glastonbury set, ‘I wanna get close to you, and this is my method’.
…the synchronised nature of their performances seep through unerringly polished shows…
If this were the first time you had seen Arctic Monkeys, then you would be forgiven in missing this tedious pattern of repetitive and rehearsed showmanship, and probably wouldn’t have even noticed. But, when you’ve followed the band throughout their career, travelled around the country to see their shows and watched how they’ve progressed and evolved, the synchronised nature of their performances seep through unerringly polished shows. It’s even more discouraging when you consider Alex Turner’s ruthless, unorthodox speech about the disobedient nature of Rock & Roll at the Brit awards a few months ago. That speech, in context, appears to be nothing but an archetype in post-modern irony.
Arctic Monkeys ended their set with ‘R U Mine?’, opposed to a more safe choice like ‘When The Sun Goes Down’, which, of course, is to be respected. The band confidently diverted the emphasis from their earlier material, and packed the set with singles from ‘AM’. Perhaps if they played a longer set, opposed to the brief ninety-minute set, they could have reached a more equal balance between their old and new material, and thus making it a mark on their career as a whole, rather than simply an end to another tour. This is what will undoubtedly separate the legacy of Arctic Monkeys at Finsbury Park, compared to the unforgettable performances like that of Oasis at Knebworth, not just because of the divergence in scale, but in what was a complete lack of interaction with the crowd from the frontman, which floats to the surface in stark contrast to Miles Kane’s energetic performance. There is no doubt that Arctic Monkeys will emerge from Finsbury Park triumphant, and will sail the vessel of Rock & Roll proudly, as one of the biggest bands in the world, but there is infinite danger of them sacrificing integrity, and the excitement of an anomalous and unpredictable experience in their live shows.
…Arctic Monkeys at Finsbury Park will not foster the same definitive and monumental sentiment in musical history…
There is a fine line between rehearsing and over-rehearsing. It is the imperfections, and erratic nature of live performances which make you cherish the experience of live music. It is also the erratic nature of live music which is the core ethos of Rock & Roll itself. It breeds the notion that you and a few thousand others have experienced something so singular, and so endearingly offbeat, that such a performance could never be repeated or imitated, it can only be reimagined. For those that saw Arctic Monkeys at Glastonbury, or any of their ‘AM’ tour shows, you can be assured and consoled with the fact that what you missed last weekend was certainly nothing that you hadn’t already seen. Furthermore, unlike Knebworth, Arctic Monkeys at Finsbury Park will not foster the same definitive and monumental sentiment in musical history. This might be shrouded with cynicism, but sheer blind fanaticism has seemed to overlook the increasingly predictable nature of the four chaps from High Green.