The O2 can be an unforgiving venue; a vast, often cold, sometimes clinical space, it’s hard to fill, and even harder to truly love. One of the last times Alex Turner was here he didn’t seem too enamoured with its atmosphere, giving a now-infamous speech at the BRIT Awards in 2014, culminating in an awkward, but nonetheless effective mic drop.
“That rock 'n'roll, eh?” he asked the crowd of music industry bods. “That rock 'n' roll, it just won't go away. It might hibernate from time to time, and sink back into the swamp. I think the cyclical nature of the universe in which it exists demands it adheres to some of its rules.”
“But it's always waiting there, just around the corner,” he warned. “Ready to make its way back through the sludge and smash through the glass ceiling, looking better than ever. Yeah, that rock'n'roll, it seems like it's faded away sometimes, but it will never die. And there's nothing you can do about it."
Tonight Arctic Monkeys are making their way through the swamp, through a landscape that seems increasingly designed to make them and their kind extinct. Yet they’re not quite finished yet – selling out a run of O2 shows, they’ve retained their place in the upper echelons, fighting off all-comers with a series of deft, often unexpected, and hugely successful albums.
Battled-hardened by a lengthy run of festival dates in North America and the continent, this show is emphatic, muscular, and deeply physical. Driven by Matt Helders’ phenomenal wildman drumming, Arctic Monkeys ooze outwards from the stage, this unstoppable rock ‘n’ roll force rising up to the very top of the cavernous arena.
A pristine ‘Four Out Of Five’ is followed by a riotous ‘Brianstorm’, the arena lights raining down on a hellraiser crowd. ‘Snap Out Of It’ is preening, acerbic, while ‘Crying Lightning’ carries that leather jacket cool. Miles Kane emerges onstage for an electrifying ‘505’ with just a hint of ‘The Jam Of Boston’ in the outro.
‘Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino’ – the title song of their somewhat divisive new album – is up next, lowering the tempo and allowing Alex Turner’s leering voice full flow, the band’s noise swirling upwards around him. ‘Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’ delights the hardcore, while a back-to-back double of ‘Cornerstone’ and ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’ finds the O2 united, a celebratory atmosphere breaking out from corner to corner.
An intriguing take on ‘Science Fiction’ is followed by a crunching ‘Do I Wanna Know?’, with Arctic Monkeys underlining their status as one of the most potent rock elixirs left on this ramshackle Earth. Alex Turner is never one to chat particulars with the crowd, but he feels utterly comfortable at the centre of adoration, his buzzcut figure writhing onstage at the crunching guitar noise erupts out of the speakers behind him.
Finishing with a visceral, virile blast through ‘I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ the band then depart, only to re-appear for a soothing, lugubrious run through ‘Star Treatment’. ‘Arabella’ pierces this placid atmosphere, before ‘R U Mine?’ ruptures the very pinnacle of the Millennium Dome itself.
As opening nights go, this felt like a statement of intent, a muscular, infinitely energetic performance from a group who evidently believe they have yet to reach their peak. The new material feels so much more comfortable, more natural in this setting, while those old classics remain completely vital, possessed by the spirit of that old rock ‘n’ roll. And as Alex Turner once noted, there's nothing you can do about that.
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Photography: Lauren McDermott
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