Ashton Gate Stadium, Bristol
Much speculation has spread across social media as to what song Arctic Monkeys were going to open their first UK stadium tour to. However, nothing could’ve prepared a single soul in Bristol’s Ashton Gate Stadium for the gentle, opening riff of Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not hit, Mardy Bum. It’s hard to believe that the classic song was last played a decade ago and hasn’t received the live treatment with the full band, album arrangement since 2007. To enlist Mardy Bum as the tune to kick off the band’s monumental first stadium run on home soil was not only a real treat for their dedicated following, but a testament to the band’s success and this new chapter in their history. Four mates from High Green, Sheffield, filling stadiums with their observational genre-bending anthems.
Tonight’s setlist only gets bigger following the astounding beginning. Whilst the band’s seventh full length, The Car, sounds as though it’ll have some issues getting over the metaphorical speed bumps in the form of packed, open air stadiums due to its intimate, delicate and often quieter sonics, the tracks sound full and the crowd of almost 30,000 are up for anything that the band unexpectedly pull, singing every word, riff and note.
In a turnover fast enough to leave you with whiplash, the track so good it was featured during one of Tommy Shelby’s famously moody, slo-mo walking scenes in Peaky Blinders; Don’t Sit Down Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair is the punchy second tune of the night, whilst tracks such as Four Out Of Five pose as reminders of Arctic Monkeys’ more recent experimentations with genre.
Matt Helders’s fast-paced and often frantic drumming keeps the energy high, notably on Favourite Worst Nightmare singles Teddy Picker and Brianstorm, and debut album track, The View From The Afternoon. Despite the faster tempos and more wordy lyrics on these tracks, the fans inhabiting Bristol’s stadium continue to manage giving the band their absolute all.
And the surprises of the night didn’t halt at Mardy Bum; for the first time since 2014, the band performed Humbug album opener, My Propeller, a darker sounding number which was highly anticipated following rumours of it being sound checked prior to tonight’s show. Alongside it, the nostalgic Fluorescent Adolescent made its return during the European leg of the tour, and remained on the setlist for Bristol, as well as the slightly more tender Suck It And See, one of the tracks where we first heard Turner’s ever-maturing vocals in 2011. The latter only continues to compliment his stronger, more controlled vocal style more than a decade on.
As it’s a show of a much larger scale compared to previous Monkeys tours, the visuals and stage design are as mesmerising as the music itself. As the sun begins to set, the waltzing, orchestral notes of The Car’s romantic lead, There’d Better Be A Mirrorball, flood the venue. “Oh there’d better be a mirrorball for me”, Turner croons, as his request is approved and a mirrorball labelled with ‘MONKEYS’ descends from above the stage. The instrumental saunters on before the stage plunges into darkness and the mirrorball glows red, its reflections dancing over the stadium. “I wanna be yours!” the frontman calls out before the band go into their ballad reworking of John Cooper Clarke’s cult poem, and the atmospheric visuals continue.
There are no confetti cannons, nor are any pyrotechnics used in tonight’s set, however, the set design and aesthetics onstage eliminate any necessity for the former. On the screens, the band are captured in a seventies haze, whilst onstage, a circle on the back wall shows a different angle; the lighting colourful and striking.
Despite the tour kicking off following the release of the band’s latest studio record, only three songs from the new album received the live treatment. 505, the track featuring an intense build-up before breaking down on the middle 8, thrives in a stadium scenario and the crowd of that size singing ‘I crumble completely when you cry’ in unison is enough to trigger shivers. Newer release, Body Paint, guides us into the encore, the track’s similar intensity increasing anticipation before closing on a brash, extended outro; the band jamming together onstage for the last minute or so. It’s almost as if they’ve forgotten they’re being watched in a full stadium, making the moment feel much more intimate despite the scale.
That’s the general vibe of the show. There’s no huge production, no long and winding monologues, no strutting along staging that protrudes into the audience. They may be selling out stadiums now, but the band dynamic is still there. They still feel like Arctic Monkeys.
The encore is a moment of reminiscence for the band’s past, yet doesn’t lose sight of the future. The foreboding musicality of Sculptures Of Anything Goes marks the band’s return to the stage, before I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor reminds us of where it all began, the energy increasing with the crowd’s euphoria. R U Mine sees out the night in much of the same fashion.
Arctic Monkeys’ stadium tour is a reminder of authenticity; that no matter what musical directions they venture into, they’re still always that band.