Picture from www.headphonesex.co.uk

It seems 2005 is destined to be remembered as the year of the Monkey…..or rather The Arctic Monkeys. They may have only released one limited edition single, and this may only be third time theyve made it down to the capital, but the buzz around The Monkeys has to be seen to be believed. If The Daily Star is to believed, theyve just signed a 1 million pound publishing deal with EMI, and this gig was moved from the smaller Marquee to cope with the sheer numbers craning to see the “the best new band in Britain”. They could have sold out Brixton Academy, and no doubt will next time they play London.

So meteororic has their rise been that bassist Andy Nicholson suffered a nose bleed a few songs in. Off he scuttled to stem the flow, leaving Alex to deal with the few down the front that had the cheek to suggest that getting a nosebleed wasnt exactly rock and roll….”Shut it…he’ll kick your head in” or words to that effect.

The Guardian, bless them, worried that the young Monkeys need looking after if the hype is not to overwhelm. Commenting on “their barely defined features that make them look as if they’ve just been dragged, feet first, out of the womb” the nosebleed and the awkward moments that followed apparently exposed their archilles heel:

Arctic Monkeys look like lost little boys. “It’s a big place this, isn’t it,” muses singer and guitarist Alex Turner, all momentum gone.

I’d agree that after the nosebleed they did seem to lose their way a bit, not helped by a strange choice of running order. Kicking off a gig with your new single and then following that with your debut shows a certain bravado, but the downside is that the almost overwhelming frenzy that greeted the opening numbers went a little flat until “Dancing Shoes”.

‘Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’
‘Fake Tales Of San Francisco’
‘Still Take You Home’
‘View From The Afternoon’
‘Ritz To The Rubble’
‘You Probably Couldn’t See’
‘Vampires Is A Bit Strong But…’
‘Dancing Shoes’
‘Red Light’
‘Mardy Bum’
‘Sun Goes Down’ (AKA Scummy)
‘Certain Romance’

Having seen and been blown away by them at the tiny Islington Bar Academy earlier in the year I was eager to find out if they could cut it in front of 2000+ fans, journo’s and the odd celebrity (Sean Bean, and according to Alex possibly that bloke who plays Gareth in The Office). This was without doubt one of the best gigs i’ve been to this year, but I suppose predictably it didnt quite reach the heights of the Islington show. Part of this may have been due to me opting not to join the bedlam of the mosh pit, whereas at Islington I was quite litterally knocked off my feet (a first for me at any gig), and at one point almost fell onto both the stage and Alex himself. Its hard to recreate the intensity of a really small gig, but sometimes the numbers themselves create an atmosphere that more than compensates for not being able to actually tumble onto the stage itself.
James Woodley writer of the brilliant Headphone Sex blog hit the nail on the head in his review:

The band easily have enough material to fill an hour’s set with quality stuff. Christ knows why they don’t ever play ‘Bigger Boys and Stolen Sweethearts’… and ‘Choo Choo’, ‘Cigarette Smoke’ and ‘Wavin’ Bye To The Train and The Bus’ would all be better bets than.. well four of the mediocre songs they played in the middle.

Hopefully that doesnt sound too negative…don’t get me wrong this was a blinder of a gig, and judging by the frothing of the hacks its already added to the unstoppable phenomenum that is the Arctic’s takeover of UK music.

David Sinclair at The Times had trouble with Alex Turners “impenetrable Northern accent” but still gave them 4 stars:

2,000 or more fans crushed on to the dancefloor….to sing along…with word-perfect accuracy — and did so with lusty abandon. Although there were flaws in this performance, there was also a tremendous sense of destiny about it.

The Independant gushed over the “exuberant, smart and savvy band that write sharp, impeccably observed guitar-pop shocks”

The excitement outside the Astoria is of the kind reserved for rock legends. The Arctic Monkeys are the UK’s Next Really Big Thing. Like label mates Franz Ferdinand, this quartet have seemingly leapt into the limelight fully formed.

Xfm.co.uk hit the nail on the head when describing the unique atmosphere of a monkeys gig:

First you notice the screaming. There are kids screaming the lyrics. They’re dancing, arms around each other, chanting “Mon! Keys! Mon! Keys!” Young men drenched in sweat wander around looking dazed and hyperemotional. A quick scan of the room shows a mass of fists shaking, bodies leaping, mouths wide open – screaming. Sheer bloody enthusiasm. This isn’t a gig, it’s a youth movement!

Unfortunatly the “Youth movement” is to be tucked up in bed early tonight as the Monkeys are yanked off stage at an obscenly early 10.15. A gay disco already has first dibs on the venue!

Picture courtesy Headphonesex.co.uk

They end with a triple whammy of future classics, first of which is my favourite Monkey tune, the ode to stroppy girlfriends, “Mardy Bum“. Best moment of the gig for me is the sight and sound of 2000 people singing the entire opening verse…remember this is a track thats only ever been available as an unofficial download. “Scummy man” and “A Certain romance closed out the evening in an anthemic manner, wiping out any memory of the saggy middle.

I’ll be disapointed if their new single fails to get to No.1, and while i’m in hyperbole mode get your bets down for next years “Mercury Music prize”….yes…yes..I know they havn’t even recorded the album yet!

The Monkeys are special, despite not being exactly groundbreaking musically, they rise above the Kaisers, and Libertines of this world.
The key to their genius is leadman Alex Turner, and for me most importantly…his lyrics. So often an afterthought, The Arctics would be half the band without Turners’ beautiful, funny, angry observations on everyday life. The obvious comparison is The Streets, but mixed with fellow Sheffield legend Jarvis. Its claimed that Alex’s unlikely idol is John Cooper Clarke, and the lyrics certainly share the Bard of Salford’s deft take on life.
Turner is also blessed with a great voice, stretching syllables like a young Liam Gallagher. He also has a fantastic ability to channel the electricity of their music into the audience, creating a communal experience. In the mayhem at the beginning of the gig beer was hurled towards the stage, and Turner had to duck flying booze on numerous occasions. However in true style he stops “Fake Tales” dead to declare “if anyone throws another fucking can we’re off”…before picking up without missing a beat.
Not a single can was hurled in the following 50 minutes!

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