Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Arctic Who?

The Arctic Monkeys are going to save rock and roll.

Or so everone tells us.

Armed with this alarming/hopeful information, a vague memory of their set at Leeds festival, and many recent hours of playing and enjoying their tunes, I ventured out to see them at both their New York shows. I anticipated the Mercury Lounge show (and their first show in the US) to be the better of the two, since it was a smaller, more intimate venue, as well as being 21+. I've been to shows there that have been filled with Brits, so I expected them to make up the majority of the audience. Instead, it wound up being the Bowery Ballroom show that was a veritable hometown reunion.

The first show put off several people, including the band themselves, as it turned out to be mostly industry wankers, and the crowd lacked enthusiasm (other than near drunken hooliganism.) Despite the conversation we had with these very enthusiastic large gentlemen behind us before the show, one of whom swore that there hadn't been a band like this since The Who. Standing up front, singing along with Alex Turner, jumping around with a girl next to me from Sheffield, I didn't notice that much. I noticed it in the band's attitude, though. Aloof on stage, though still interacting with the audience, they seemed skeptical of us, rather than the other way around. Maybe it was because it seemed all these big muckety-mucks were there to see what the hype was all about, or maybe it was because they all believed it, and didn't really care if it was true. They played an eleven song set plus intro, with no encore. They didn't play one of the fan favorites, "Mardy Bum," which actually quite bummed me out, as it's one of my favorites (and I managed to steal a second of Turner's time after the show to request it for the next night, and actually even got a second of his attention during that time). The lack of encore made the slight even more acute, but who knows how bands decide whether they're going to be one of those bands that do or don't? But the music was tight, the music rocked, and that should be all that mattered, right? The only reason that you came...

Wrong. I was floored at the difference between the two shows. Hanging around at the bar downstairs before the doors opened, you could tell just by listening to the various dialectic British accents that this crowd was going to be different. Despite the fact that apparently David Bowie, Muse, and Mike Skinner were there as well. But how would that affect the show? Riotously, that's how. From the second song on, a group of people shoved their way to the front, and proceeded to turn this show into a British gig, replete with shoving and singing along. Which apparently the band loved. More "on," more inspired, they played even better than the first night. Alex asked where people were from, and raised an eyebrow when several of the answers screamed out were, "Sheffield!" This is what they're used to, and we got to see them in their element. Turner even took the piss out of the industry people there, noting, "There's a balcony tonight. There weren't one last night." He commented on how he usually feels bad, that the people on the floor have the bad seats, and the people in the balcony have the good seats. He also noted how, in this case, that's quite true - "There's even a velvet rope and shit, isn't there?" A bit later on he asked who gets to be up in the balcony? Record execs? Journalists? After dedicating "Fake Tales of San Francisco" to "Sheffield," he also took a pot shot at the balcony elite by singing, "There's a few bored faces in the top all wishing they weren't there." Can't argue with that one.

The set list was the same as the night before, "View from the Afternoon," "Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor," "Still Take You Home," "Dancing Shoes," "Fake Tales of San Francisco," "You Probably Couldn't See," "From the Ritz to the Rubble," "Vampires Is A Bit Strong But...," and "Sun Goes Down," (aka "Scummy"). At the Mercury Lounge, their penultimate song was "Red Light Indicates Doors Are Secured" instead of the slated "Mardy Bum." The big moment came last night, the question that was hanging in the air for me, and calls for "Mardy Bum" had been coming all night, either because the news they hadn't played it had spread or just because it's the song everyone calls out. When the first few chords started, I have to admit, I squealed like an excited child. (It wasn't until afterwards that I started to resent it.) They ended with the nearly epic "A Certain Romance," and for a split second it seemed as if they were going to play an encore this time, but then the house lights came on, dashing our hopes.

I was quite conflicted. As a music fan, I was on a high from a great show. Last night's show allowed me to see what it is that the people in the know see in this band. Alex Turner has musical talent and presence well beyond his 19 years. The other band members remained silent both nights, allowing Alex to be the focus of attention and bear the weight of having to banter, having to be the showman. With the audience responding "correctly," I got to see a bit of his cocksure attitude, and see him really put on a performance. But as a New Yorker, and to a different degree, as an American, I resented the fact that it took an audience that was at least half British to elicit this performance. Last night's crowd 'earned' "Mardy Bum" - I would never flatter myself to think he played it because I asked the night before. But they can't expect every crowd to be like a crowd from the country where they've had a #1 single and who has known their music for a while. They're supposed to be winning over Americans, not playing to Brits. They're supposed to be winning us over, not vice versa. Maybe their attitude isn't just an attitude, and they really don't care about having any success here - if the record company wants to bring them over, they'll play, but they're not fussed about "breaking" America.

That said, if they come back, and to a town near you, go see them. Preferably see them with a primarily British audience. If that can be arranged. But don't do it for the hype, because hype is only ever an illusion. And what's left after that's gone is the music. Their songs are readily available all over the internet. Find them. Learn them. Live them. You won't be able to get them out of your head. There's a reason why they are touted as the next saviors of rock and roll, and it's not because they can take down record execs a few pegs.

Just don't expect them to be The Who.


Anonymous MD said...

David Bowie was there??? Oh Jesus, I just have shit luck don't I.

11:33 AM  
Blogger rock goddess said...

Not that I saw him. I just heard about it. We didn't stay after really.

11:44 AM  
Anonymous MD said...

Maybe I was right that my lack of enthusiasm deadened the Tues. night set a bit. With more of their traditional fans, they felt more comfortable.

11:49 AM  
Blogger rock goddess said...

That's a lot of blame to put on yourself. As I recall, there were at least several more people in the room with you. :b

11:50 AM  
Anonymous Simon said...

They never do encores. I reckon it's because they're not up their own arse enough to think they should have one. They don't have an album out, after all, and they don't have enough tunes.

Good blog though.

8:54 AM  
Blogger rock goddess said...

I don't think that you need to be up your own ass to do an encore. Well, the whole "we'll walk off and wait while they cheer for us so that we can feel important" part is, but coming back and singing a few more songs isn't. And they have lots of songs that they didn't play, or ones that they don't apparently play anymore - they could have done one or two more.

Thanks, though.

10:30 AM  

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