Friday, September 07, 2007

Monkeying Around Central Park: Arctic Monkeys At Summerstage

By: David Schultz

Arctic MonkeysJust ask Amy Winehouse or Lily Allen, the English press is the greatest tool for becoming a worldwide megasuperstar, quick to proclaim a fresh new face as the “Next Big Thing,” with a clarion call that attracts attention from the rest of the globe. It’s also the largest factor in their fall from grace, savagely swooping in to dissect and destroy the idols of their own creation with the same efficiency used in building them up. Even before the release of their debut album, the British hype machine went into overdrive for the Arctic Monkeys with the brash Sheffield youngsters receiving all sorts of accolades hailing them as everything short of the “Second Coming.” A strange thing happened though once the Monkeys reached the peak of their popularity: they were worthy of the praise.

As New York City’s Summerstage series enters its final stages for the season, the Arctic Monkeys breezed in for a quick one-off gig in Central Park. Barely old enough to drink, they blend in with the youthful crowd they attract. In the interim between their set and Voxtrot’s Rush meets The Smiths opening one, I spotted the Monkey’s lead singer and guitarist Alex Turner roaming anonymously amidst the audience, hardly attracting a second glance from a sold-out crowd that had come to see him.

From the moment they hit the stage, Jamie Cook and Turner created a frenetic aura with their dual guitars, the hectic pacing giving the songs an edginess like the band is rushing somewhere or being chased Hard Days Night style through the streets of Sheffield. They breezed from choppy, punk rock licks to surf rock rumbles, rarely lingering too long on any set style. The Monkeys also don’t dwell on any particular riff: where some bands would branch off into lengthy jams built around a particular musical phrase, Cook, Turner, bassist Nick O’Malley and drummer Matthew Helders grab hold of a riff, quickly throttle everything out of it and then discard it without a second thought. Fortunately, they seem to have a multitude of these at their fingertips.

Frontloading the show with “This House Is A Circus,” Brianstorm” and “Still Take You Home,” they set a breakneck pace that eventually grew stale. Some of the finesse exhibited on Favourite Worst Nightmare, their latest release, made its way to the stage but little touches like the cowbell segue in “Balaclava” were noticeably absent. They brought the same ragged, sneering charm to their newer material as found on “Fake Tales Of San Francisco” and “I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor” which received the most enthusiastic responses of the night. Although I am usually in favor of a band playing for as long as humanly possible, their remarkable 80 minute set would have been a jaw-dropping 45 minute one.

Having attained so much so fast, it’s hard to tell if the Monkeys truly appreciate the adulation they receive. In some respects, the overnight popularity foisted onto the band and the resulting demands and obligations, ultimately led to Andy Nicholson, their original bassist and friend, leaving the band. Turner’s pinched snarl of a singing voice and brief sometimes flippant stage banter doesn’t do much to shed any light on the subject nor did their abrupt end of the show, with the house lights coming on, signifying no encore, before Cook’s final guitar chord finished reverberated in the starry skies. In just a year the band’s maturation has been noticeable and impressive and it will definitely be an intriguing curiosity to watch these Monkeys continue to evolve.

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Grace Potter Rocking The Gear circa 2006!