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Arctic Monkeys perform in Barcelona, February 2010
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Arctic Monkeys home
Four years ago, I saw the Arctic Monkeys perform as relative unknowns in front of a sweaty, packed Razzmatazz. They played almost the whole set without acknowledging the audience, frontman Alex Turner staring at his feet throughout, and yet it was a fantastic gig, intense and raw. As I headed up a cold and windy Montjuïc to the Sant Jordi Club on Saturday night, I doubted whether four years of polish could really have made them any better.
Early signs were not good. The venue, modern and sterile, looked suspiciously like a local leisure hall. But with The Mystery Jets providing some well-received support, the temperature rose and a smoky haze built. This was more like it. Excitement hit fever pitch as the Arctic Monkeys finally took to the stage, demanding "Com esteu Barcelona?" Evidently they'd learned to play to the crowd, then.
The 90-minute set saw them show off their latest material, with older favourites thrown in. Much has been commented in recent months about the Arctic Monkeys's new long-haired look and American-influenced sound, with fans divided over whether the shift away from punk-rock beats and witty Yorkshire storytelling is a stroke of genius, or something of a sell-out. I have to confess that I wasn't sure, but hearing the new songs live has blown any doubts away.
While Humbug's sound is little more laid back and less attention-grabbing than the Arctic's earlier stuff, on stage it becomes absolutely electric. After opening with the machine-gun beats of 'Dance Little Liar', a cover of Nick Cave's 'Red Right Hand' went down a treat, and hit 'Crying Lightning' was a shout-along success. The melodic 'Cornerstone' brought a lighter touch, and closing number 'Secret Door' brought the crowd out in an impromptu dance routine.
All the same, none of the newer songs quite stood up to the likes of 'Brianstorm', 'Still Take You Home' and a storming rendition of 'I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor' that had every person in the place showing off their moves. By far the highlight of the night was a sublime version of 'When The Sun Goes Down'. Just the first chord drew a huge roar of approval, followed by a word-perfect singalong. The audience's clamor to hear 'Mardy Bum' was to go unanswered as the band closed with 'Secret Door', but an energetic encore of 'Fluorescent Adolescent' and '505' proved that nostalgia was not dead.
That Arctic Monkeys are a lot less rough around the edges these days is beyond doubt. But with a touch less shyness and a newfound maturity to their work, it seems they are stronger than ever before.
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