Live Review: Arctic Monkeys, Sleepy Sun @ Rams Head Live (2010.04.07)

Looking back, Arctic Monkey‘s rise to prominence with their 2006 fastest-selling debut makes a lot more sense than Susan Boyle’s similar honors. People had just gotten used to finding out about music from the Internet. The Arctic Monkeys were young, irreverent, and most importantly, British. What’s more, the band was enjoyable to people you wouldn’t normally see together at a concert: pop-punkers and indie kids, aging hipsters and tweens, mods and rockers. All in all, 2006 was a pretty great year for them.

The boys from Sheffield have maintained their swagger for the ensuing three, churning out consistently high-quality albums and a slew of exciting EPs in between. Last year’s Humbug was supposedly a bottom-heavy, Americana influenced deviation from the course, although the most apparent difference was in Alex Turner’s longer hair than in any shift in songwriting. They’ve rocked tighter and better than most of their indie-major contemporaries, and although Wednesday was the first time I’d seen them live before, I had heard that their style translated into a fantastic stage show.

Opener Sleepy Sun was top-notch. For some reason, I’ve been historically more impressed with the opening acts I see at Rams Head Live. I think it’s generally true that incipient bands operating in the shadows of someone huge generally bring a little more fire and excitement to their shows. But I think it’s also been the case that the headliners I’ve seen have been a bit too loud for the small club’s acoustics to handle. Sleepy Sun liked to jam, nonchalantly stretching past the ten minute mark on a couple of songs, but their on-stage interaction was good, and the songs texturally varied enough to sustain their length without becoming watch-gazers. They played good-old 60s and 70s style rock, with (I’m not sure why) two bassists and a girl who played tambourine and occasionally danced. They were fun to watch, really giving the sense of being a band, not a bunch of soloists thrown together. Their 2009 album Embrace is out on ATP Records. I recommend giving it a listen.

Sleepy Sun finished soon enough, and while I personally liked them a lot, they were also one of those opening bands that people tend to chatter through while they’re waiting for the main attraction. It’s not everyday that I get to review a high-profile band comprised of musicians mostly younger than me. On record, the band doesn’t really scream youth, though; their songs are often cynical about, and occasionally accusatory, towards their generation. The front cover and overflowing ashtray on their first CD seeming to demand an older, battle-scarred profile. But there are moments in listening that the band gives away its age: the MTV2 style shouted choruses and breakdowns, the occasionally Comp 101 style of artifice that subtly alludes to “Montagues and Capulets.” Of course, these faults are easier to swallow in a younger band, when the people singing them could actually be in Comp 101, and obviously it’s easier to pass over tactless lyrics when the songs are as energetic and hooky as the Arctic Monkeys.

On Wednesday, there was no artifice to be had. The band were stoic, almost plain. Their stage set was bare, their between-song chatter Bob Mould-ian (“This song is called “Do Me A Favour!”), and their playing systematic. The effect was to drive the focus entirely onto the songs. The band dispensed one surging rock song after another, pausing only enough to shift tempo in the middle of the song. They charged at breakneck pace through a set that was evenly distributed throughout their discography, with the only surprise being a cover of Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand,” which translated surprisingly well into their hyper-kinetic style. Contrary to the band’s reticence, the crowd was as high-energy as any I’ve ever seen at Rams Head. A few people even tried crowd-surfing, which, believe it or not, is a thing some people still try. If the crowd fed on some of the band’s energy, it was transferred exclusively through the songs and the band’s pounding rhythms.

It’s a little crotchety to say, but the only drawback was they were too loud. I couldn’t really make out the chord changes. If I hadn’t known what the lyrics were, I would have had no clue what Turner was singing. But I suppose most people don’t go to Arctic Monkeys concerts to hear the lyrics. This is a shame, because Turner’s good ones deploy considerable wit. They suggest the band has somewhere to turn if they make it to the stage when the fury’s run out, and you have to rely on songwriting.

No matter. The band rocked, in their herky-jerky stop-start manner, and watching them execute the sharp turns embedded in their songs to Matt Helder’s thrashing drum prowess and Nick O’Malley’s razor sharp basslines was well worth the price of admission. No matter how old you are.

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One Response to “Live Review: Arctic Monkeys, Sleepy Sun @ Rams Head Live (2010.04.07)”

  1. e. says:

    Some shitty lines in your review.

    But the worst one was the opener:

    “The Arctic Monkeys were young, irreverent, and most importantly, British” WTF, that’s racist! and worse even, Illogical, A lot of my favorite bands are from Brit, but that’s where all the “good” bands come from.

    And P.s.> Sleepy Sun was a terrible opening act. Great stage presence, I won’t argue that… but nothing more than a bunch of hippies thrown together jamming out the “Good Vibes”; They did 6 songs here in Mexico, and all were over 3 minutes, and they all sound the same. They even use the same melodies and chord structures on most of their songs.

    Anywho, lame review, should proof read, before submitting.


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