Arctic Monkeys @ Plymouth Pavilions, Tuesday 18/​​04/​​06

When the announcement of a gig manages to make local news headlines, one can immediately see that this is something more than your average band making the long trip down south. It’s the Arctic Monkeys’ biggest set of shows to date, with Mr Turner and co fresh from snubbed celebrity parties and rare TV appearances in the US. We all know the songs, the hysteria, the screaming sing-​​alongs and the gleeful faces by now. The new test for these four unassuming lads is to translate this to the bigger stage. Will the whimsical tales of shit bands, moody girlfriends and dance floor doubts fill these cavernous spaces as well as they filled the pubs and clubs? To cut a long story short ………. yes.

Looking at their gruelling tour schedule, Gigwise was expecting to see at least the first few signs of fatigue, or of a band simply going through the motions. From the first chord it’s obvious we couldn’t have been more wrong. Opening with ‘Riot Van’ keeps the madness to a minimum, at least for a short while. The new E.P tracks are slotted into the set as if they’ve always been there, with the superb ‘No Buses’ replaced by the still unreleased ‘Leave Before The Light’s Come On’. The breakdown in ‘Vampires’ seems to veer so far from the song (and the confused crowd) that you wonder if Turner will ever be able to rescue it from the clutches of Helders, which of course he does with particular vigour before the drummer snatches it back to launch straight into ‘Dancing Shoes’.

Mardy Bum’ is welcomed as the single that never was, and is being played on these shores for the first time in 2006. Adopted as a flagship tune by the original download Arctic Army a year ago, the newer disciples seem equally hooked. Gigwise couldn’t help but chuckle as grown men act out the ‘Mardy Bum Play’, reminiscent of a GCSE drama piece involving overblown ‘cuddles in the kitchen’ and attempts to replicate the ‘silent disappointed face.’ After Turner publicly admitted he wasn’t sure where to look when playing the song in America, its moments such as these the band must have missed on their trips abroad.

Of the newer tracks, ‘Who The Fuck’s Arctic Monkeys?’ stands out as the most blatant attempt to keep fans on their toes. Criticism that the song is perhaps too self aware are well justified, but it doesn’t take anything away from what is a formidable and powerful statement of intent. Nicholson’s bass is turned up to shake the foundations while Helders’ drumming, not for the first time tonight, is exceptional. The crowd’s reaction however, fails to come close to the hysteria that welcomes the rest of the set, indicating that despite its availability on many (illegal) download sites for some time now, the newer breed of fans prefer to keep to the right side of the law. Not that this is an issue, but for anyone returning to gigs after seeing the band in smaller venues it will no doubt be a shock to find yourself stood next to characters from ‘Bigger Boys and Stolen Sweethearts’ or ‘A Certain Romance’. Turner has slyly commented on this before, but despite there being no room for the line ‘All you people are sheep’ in tonight’s performance, he obviously relishes the opportunity to take a pop without it being noticed. When he casually remarks, ‘And there’s a couple of hundred, Think they’re Christopher Columbus, But the settlers had already settled, Yeah long before you’ in ‘Who The Fuck’s Arctic Monkeys?’ its delivered with more venom and spite than he could possible muster on his 7 millionth rendition of ‘Dancefloor’.

The parting salvo of ‘When The Sun Goes Down’, ‘From the Ritz to the Rubble’, ‘Fake Tales’ and ‘A Certain Romance’ (introduced as the Riverboat Song) is surely the best run of songs on offer in the charts and arenas of today. It’s these older tracks in particular which showcase the importance of Turner’s companions, as the band reach a new level of tightness and professionalism. Watching the singer leave the microphone to allow Cook, Helders and Nicholson to bellow ‘Get off the bandwagon and put down the handbook’ in ‘Fake Tales’ allows us to see the power of a tight, close band who are still improving despite the immense pressure they’re forced to operate under.

So if you’re thinking you’ve seen the Arctic Monkeys at their best a year ago, think again. Though any level of intimacy has completely vanished, there is still a lot to say for watching this many people lose their minds to Shakespeare references, uncompromising noise battles and one of the most poignant closing verses, in A Certain Romance, we’ve heard for some time. Though the indie snob in us all may turn us off the idea of singing their praises too much, we have to remember the affect these lads will have on the thousands of kids listening to them. Their attitudes towards the ‘industry’, their reliance on wit and melody to sell records and their hard working ethos will filter down to another generation, and in the eyes of Gigwise the more people who hear their message the better. And of course, they still make fantastic music.

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