Better Than: Northern English food (black pudding, anyone?)
Last night's debut Miami show by the Sheffield, England rock outfit the Arctic Monkeys gave plenty to cheer about. But it was the fans who really made the evening. Not only was it sold out -- in the theater's full configuration, including the upstairs balcony -- but random would-be concertgoers swarmed outside, trying to buy extras. Those who made it inside seemed extra glad to have made it in. And as the whole show was general admission, as soon as the opening band finished, everyone who had previously been well-behaved in the seats rushed the floor.
The energy only went up from there, for which we can thank a very youthful crowd still largely fresh-faced and just stoked to be watching an out-of-town act. These were kids who were so amped up, they cheered the roadies setting up the Monkeys' gear -- several times. At another point, they started up some kind of wordless football-style chant, complete with rhythmic clapping and T-shirt waving.
This stood in contrast to the beginning of the band's set, which began with little fanfare and a slow-burning song selection that went for more of the group's slinky, moody numbers than its high-octane rockers. Frontman Alex Turner didn't introduce himself and the band, even, until after the second song, "Brianstorm." One thing that was not chilled out here: flashing strobe lights, which the band would dizzyingly return to, again and again throughout the show.
But while a commenter on my Q&A with Monkeys bassist Nick O'Malley
complained that Turner has seemed aloof in past performances, I believe that was a mistake in interpretation. The band is just very English, not aloof. You will rarely find a British band, much less one from the north of England, jovially joking between songs. Instead, the Monkeys seemed humble, and when Turner did speak, it was self-effacing and almost shy. Early in the show, he offered, "Are you in a good mood, Miami?" It was a rhetorical question; whooping ensued.
After a terrible sound mix at set's start, though, with murky guitars and muffled vocals, things cleared up sonically and warmed up moodwise as the evening went on. If the band's stage manner is distinctly English, so is its sound, a stop-and-start, stuttering form of meaty British indie built on almost martial drumming. Even in its more subdued moments, it's a fresh offering from what we usually hear around these parts. And it's in the band's more subdued moments that its interesting musical textures become most apparent.
Of course, the Monkeys can cook up some rip-rocking crowd-pleasers. The upbeat "Still Take You Home" came early, leading the crowd in a chant-along of its catchy chorus, "What do you know?/Oh you know nothing!" That inescapable "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor" came about halfway through; it was nice that the band didn't play coy and save it for an "encore."
But other moments hinted at a possibly more mature, even darker direction for the Monkeys. Turner strapped on an acoustic for a couple of numbers at one point, including the off-kilter ballad "Secret Door," which, live, was made creepy with reverb and pitch-bent synths. Another selection, the relatively new "Joining the Dots," hinted even further at Nick Cave-style gloomy psychedelia.
Bassist O'Malley said in that recent interview
that the band hopes to record an entire album of fast songs. That would be a change of pace for them, surely, but after last night, it would be clear that it would be everyone's loss to ignore its more low-key talents. It's clear, though, that either way, its legions of loyal fans, at least here, will be gleefully clapping along.
Personal Bias: Not only am I an unabashed Anglophile, I am further partial to anything from the north of England -- the more obscure and regional the accent, the better.
Random Detail: I actually sat next to a full family -- mom, dad, and tween girl. The smoke-free environment of the Fillmore makes it a lot more pleasant for people of different ages and temperaments to enjoy.
By the Way: This is the lamest graffiti I saw in the bathroom. It reads "Wilco just melted my face off."