Arctic Monkeys - Manchester Central

Whoa. Where to start ? Certainly, as a piece of social observation, tonight’s second of two sold-out Manchester shows is worth your attention. Sadly, I don’t actually see the promised spectacle of people urinating into their plastic cups and lobbing them around, but I do see an almost non-stop barrage of beer arcing across my view. These young people, eh ? (As a practical application of cutting out the middle man, I must admit, I admire the application and the zeal.)

So, these Arctic Monkeys. I should declare my hand. I’m not a fan. Not really. Not a card-carrying, album-buying, piss-throwing convert. But don’t let that trouble you. I’m ready to be won over and I thought they pulled off their Glastonbury headlining slot back in July with something approaching skill and wit. But tonight… jeez … Tonight, in this dreadful old hangar, Britain’s most popular band play one of the most turgid, insipid, non-events of a gig I’ve ever seen. Like I say, where to start ? They open with what turns out to be a new song, which clearly no-one around me knows. A few fans actually boo. As I recall, they throw ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’ in after a few songs and it’s only then that anything approaching an atmosphere starts to build but before too long, it’s flat and quiet again. Apart from a less than convincing mosh pit down the front, the best part of 10,000 people are standing around observing with a seemingly cold detachment. Which isn’t any different from what I’m doing, granted, but I haven’t paid £25. The set crawls to a close and the appearance of a few singles get big cheers – ‘Flourescent Adolescent’ and a fiery ‘Sun Goes Down’ seem to be leading us towards a climax. But for every ‘Still take You Home’ or ‘505’, which seems to be a cue for everyone to head for the bar, there’s what I can only assume to be some wilful obscurity which only promotes more bar trips. The big flourish never comes. (Alex Turner asks if everyone enjoyed support band The Horrors and there are loud, sustained boos. He seems a bit pissed by then, to be fair, but shakes his head and offers some slurred approbation.) Everyone around me is shouting for ‘Mardy Bum’ but they pass on that and finish with another song that results in even more booing. By the end, the back third of this venue appears to be populated with people who’ve forgotten there’s a band actually onstage.

Look, they’re clearly decent lads, and they’ve quite obviously had superstardom thrown at them in the most unexpected way, despite their fighting talk, but these Monkeys are in way over their heads. They don’t look that happy tonight at all. Some of the claims they’ve had thrust upon them must surely keep Alex Turner awake at night. If this young man really is the best chronicler of working class foibles etc in pop since Morrisey – I’ve read that more times than I care to remember - then I’m a f***ing monkey’s uncle. (And will you pass me my copy of ‘Different Class’, while I’m sat down, please ?) To be honest, the lyrical approach (rapid-fire rhyming, semi-sneering delving behind closed curtains, not so much of a hint of a sigh, a bruised heart, a way with ironic, impassioned declaration that Stephen or Jarvis could muster) is already beginning to jar. The musical palette could do with a bit of a brush-up too, could it not ? Is twanging, staccato, overdriven guitar not so very 2004 now ? I don’t know, call me boring but still it baffles me how we build ‘em up. I’m not knocking ‘em down as such … but a bit of balance, is it too much to ask for ? These bright young things - with your love, you’re in danger of snuffing them out. Too much, too young.

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