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Review: Arctic Monkeys swagger through brawny, sultry set at Jannus Live in St. Petersburg

2

February

By now, Americans should know that you can’t always trust British buzz. And you can’t always trust blog buzz. And you ESPECIALLY can’t always trust British blog buzz.

Which might explain why it took so long for America to fully embrace Arctic Monkeys. Since emerging during the blog-hype heyday of the mid-2000s, they’ve cultivated a strong cult following here in the States, but only now are they joining the ranks of the biggest of the big. Do I Wanna Know?, from their latest AM, is their biggest American hit, currently the No. 1 alternative rock song in the country, and on Feb. 8, they’ll headline Madison Square Garden.

Judging from their performance Saturday at a much smaller (and very much sold-out) Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, they’re ready for their moment in the American spotlight. Wearing a dashing pompadour befitting his swaggering stage presence, singer Alex Turner and his fellow Arctic Monkeys crushed a set of sinister garage rock that borrowed liberally from every epoch of the rock ‘n’ roll canon — cleverly, I might add, and to great effect.

The Arctic Monkeys toured arenas with the Black Keys a couple of years ago, and the influence shows — Saturday’s setlist dripped with bluesy testosterone, starting with the big, bruising chords of opener Do I Wanna Know?, and continuing in the Jurassic low end of Don’t Sit Down ’Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair.

Sneery but not preening, Turner wielded his Sheffieldian working-class croon to sinister effect on Crying Lightning, shifting to a spooky retro-soul falsetto on the slinky Knee Socks. He got the crowd moving on songs both downtempo (the smoky, strummed-out noir poem I Wanna Be Yours) and uptempo (oh, how the ladies loved watching him swivel those hips on the sultry One For The Road).

Turner may fall into that proud English tradition of louche, leery frontmen (see: Ferry, B.; Gahan, D.; and Cocker, J.), but the classic-rock influences that shaped Arctic Monkeys are deep and inspired. You could hear the tribal heartbeat of Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk on Fireside, and just when you were thinking the crushing guitar kick on Arabella sounds a hell of a lot like Black Sabbath’s War Pigs, the band winks and the song morphs into ... an actual cover of Black Sabbath’s War Pigs.

And watching Turner casually flip out a comb to slick back his Grease-tastic ’do couldn’t help but conjure images of Joe Strummer, especially on Snap Out Of It, a London Calling-esque wallop of foot-stomping psychedelic blues. It shouldn’t be as danceable as it is, but everyone was grooving out.

With such an inspired grab bag of rock influences, the frenetic post-punk sound that brought them to fame in the first place got a surprising short shift. The furious Brianstorm and out-of-control I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor were the night’s biggest pure punk rave-ups, while the bouncy Fluourescent Adolescent, from 2007’s Favourite Worst Nightmare, was the closest they got to classic, sunny Britpop.

But America isn’t complaining — in fact, they’re lapping it up. The new Arctic Monkeys are apparently what we Yanks have been craving. If you managed to score a ticket to Saturday’s show — which sold out weeks ago — consider yourself lucky, because this may may be one of the last club gigs Arctic Monkeys play for a while.

Speaking of bands that know a thing or two about buzz, the Orwells opened the show. Fresh off a much-blogged-about performance on the Late Show with David Letterman, the young garage-rock quintet howled through an odd but satisfying set. At moments they seemed unhinged and barely there, with singer Mario Cuomo slurring, swaying and stumbling over himself at center stage, while yowling out energetic glam-punk in the vein of a grungified Big Star or Cheap Trick. But each song toed the line between sloppiness and possessed brilliance. For example, the last song ended with guitarist Matt O’Keefe thrashing his axe down to the ground ... and then he returned after the set to help collect his gear.

The Orwells are from Chicago, but someone should alert the NME — they’d make a perfect British blog buzz band.

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*

[Last modified: Sunday, February 2, 2014 1:30am]

    

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