In just a few days, it’ll be twenty years since the Arctic Monkeys performed their first gig, a short supporting set in the upstairs room of local Sheffield boozer The Grapes. Last night, three miles and a lifetime away from where it all began, Alex Turner, Jamie Cook, Matt Helders, and Nick O’Malley (the sole change to the original line-up) played the second of two victory lap homecoming shows at Hillsborough Park, with 35,000 fans in attendance.
Over the course of a career-spanning 90 minutes of scintillating rock peppered with some sumptuous balladeering roll, Alex Turner and co. gave fans something old, something new, and something altogether unforgettable, cementing their transition from rock rebels to bona fide icons.
A degree of trepidation hung over the crowd pre-show as mutterings of Turner’s slowed-down vocals and the much-vaunted divisiveness of his band’s musical direction percolated. But by the time scrappy Scouse alt-rockers The Mysterines and the (rightly) self-proclaimed “fucking amazing” Swedish veterans The Hives’ opening sets are finished, the Boro was bouncing. And when the Monkeys do take to the stage, led by Turner in now-customary aviator shades and cravat, all it takes is Helders’ thundering drum intro on ‘Brianstorm’ to leave the trees clinging to their roots as the crowd goes berserk.
From there, the pace doesn’t let up over the set’s opening third. Prowling a stage that bears an aesthetic nod to seventies TV specials and sees the frontman framed by fuzzy Super 8-style screens, Turner’s falsetto gets its first workout on ‘Snap Out of It’.
Elsewhere, brooding Humbug duffle rock fave ‘Crying Lightning’ shows off Turner at full Tom Jonesian croon – and it works – before the lyrical acrobatics of Favourite Worst Nightmare signature ‘Teddy Picker’ smashes through, the track shining a light on O’Malley’s tight bass work and reminding of the Monkeys’ command of brutishly simple yet effective hooks.
An early highlight comes in the form of Suck It And See offering ‘Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’, which leads Turner to spontaneously sit at his piano. Vamping and singing, “I wanna sit down in Sheffield”, Turner traded one of many school-boyish grins with Helders before telling the crowd, “I made that one up”.
At a time where there’s been talk of pretension in Turner and the band’s creative turns towards lounge lizardry in recent years, moments like this remind you they’ve not forgotten who they are. When Turner finds himself absent-mindedly singing the “dadda’s” of Whatever People Say I Am… number ‘From The Ritz to the Rubble’, shortly after the band shortly after telling a timeless tale of trying to get into a club on a Saturday night, it’s hard not to feel like being in his own neck of the woods really brings out the High Green in him. The “What the fuck were I thinking?” that follows certainly suggested so.
arctic monkeys performing ‘from the ritz to the rubble’ at hillsborough park in sheffield 10.06.23 pic.twitter.com/XEVPxCq1c3
— c ⏣ ⚭ (@tlspmusic) June 10, 2023
As the sun slinks off into the night, played out by the hip-hop stylings of ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High’, ‘Arabella’s’ face-melting guitar solo, and Tranquility Base’s trippy Bowie-esque singalong number ‘Four Out of Five’, the command Turner and co. have over the crowd – and their craft – is masterful.
Swapping the ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ Epiphone for his trusty acoustic Gibson, Turner simmers down the puckered-up masses with ‘Perfect Sense’, a gorgeously reflective ballad from the band’s latest album The Car, which sees the frontman contemplating endings. “Keep reminding me that it ain’t a race / When my invincible streak turns onto the final straight,” he croons, seeming to suggest this homecoming gig may yet double as the beginning of a long goodbye.
If that does prove to be the case, then the show’s closing act is a goosebump-inducing sweep of the Arctic Monkeys at the peak of their powers. Now firmly in the thrall of the night, ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ – easily one of the most singable riffs in rock since, well, probably ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’ – surfaces.
It’s directly followed by kitchen sink serenade ‘Mardy Bum’, a musical portal into the band’s and audience’s past that segues into the present with another banger from The Car, ‘There’d Better Be A Mirror Ball’. Alex Turner conducts the band on the opening stabs of even more stripped-back orchestral work, before waltzing his way vocally through the lyrical treatise on the peaks and pitfalls of nostalgia. Not even the fact the band’s actual mirrorball doesn’t come down on cue can assuage this sumptuous number, with the moment leading Turner to go full Yorkshire as he comically quips, “Gimme me mirrorball”.
arctic monkeys performing ‘cornerstone’ at hillsborough park in sheffield 10.06.23 pic.twitter.com/o51iLqSqNe
— c ⏣ ⚭ (@tlspmusic) June 11, 2023
And then onto the home straight. The Car’s lead single Body Paint continues to be a live revelation, its sexy riffs and grandstanding outro closing the main show in a rain of howling vocals, clashing guitars, and Helders going full drum demon. The encore – a now expected trio of bass-heavy apocalyptic Moog opus ‘Sculptures of Anything Goes’, the immortal ‘Dancefloor’, and an especially thrusting and gyrating rendition of ‘R U Mine?’ – lands perfectly, capping off an extraordinary night with an extraordinary band.
Despite fans’ apprehensions and idle chatter, we all head out and homeward, bound by the same feeling. That over there, there’s friends of mine. What can I say, I’ve known ‘em for a long, long time.
Five stars out of five. Now that is unheard of.