Rock Review: Arctic Monkeys Live at Agganis Arena — Living in the Now

Not surprisingly, nearly half of the band’s 20-song set Thursday night was made up of “AM” songs. Despite the quality of the quartet’s first four albums, nobody seemed to mind.

Arctic Monkeys

Arctic Monkeys — Thursday night’s show began with smoke, strobes, and flashing lights courtesy of a giant “AM” that stood at the back of the stage.

By Adam Ellsworth

“What do you think about that new Arctic Monkeys album in Boston, by the way,” Arctic Monkeys singer/guitarist Alex Turner asked the capacity crowd at Boston University’s Agganis Arena Thursday night.

“Good,” he continued after the faithful gave him the response he was looking for, “because we’re going to play some more from it.”

The new Arctic Monkeys album in question is AM, the band’s fifth, released in September 2013.

As I wrote when it came out, AM is an album for the late night/early morning hours. It’s simultaneously the band’s heaviest and danciest release to date, mixing hip hop beats with Sabbath riffs. It sounds like now.

Not surprisingly then, nearly half of the band’s 20-song set Thursday night was made up of AM songs. Despite the quality of the quartet’s first four albums, nobody seemed to mind. After all, Arctic Monkeys have been huge in their native U.K. since their 2006 debut, but they’ve never been as big in America as they are right now, and the strength and sound of AM is the reason for that success.

Thursday night’s show began with smoke, strobes, and flashing lights courtesy of a giant “AM” that stood at the back of the stage. Then, monster drums and raunchy guitars introduced AM’s opener “Do I Wanna Know?” You may know it from the Bacardi commercial:

The band next dipped into their back catalogue for “Brianstorm” and “Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair,” revisited AM with “Snap Out of It,” and then returned to “old” songs with “Crying Lightning” and “Reckless Serenade.” Each had its own distinct flavor and yet it all fit together, which pretty much sums up Artic Monkeys’ career thus far: they’re always evolving and they always sound like themselves.

Drummer Matt Helders kept a pounding tribal beat for AM’s “Fireside,” and Turner and Jamie Cook’s clean guitar lines marked that album’s “Knee Socks.” AM’s “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” featured an extra slow, almost drowsy musical intro befitting the song’s subject matter, and it took the audience an extra few seconds to recognize it. Once they did though, they gave one of their loudest cheers of the night.

As he did when Arctic Monkeys played Paradise last September, Turner put down his guitar to fully embrace the frontman role during “Arabella,” the reported next single from AM. The song’s debt to the Black Sabbath classic “War Pigs” has always been blatantly obvious, but Thursday night the band fully embraced the lift/homage during the breakdown to thrilling results.

After those four straight AM songs, the band dusted off “Dancing Shoes,” the first tune of the night off of their iconic (well, in the U.K. anyway) debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. The song may be nearly a decade old, but its feel and theme absolutely fit with the rest of the set. Same goes for “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor,” the band’s signature tune and also from the debut, which they played two songs later (the 2011 non-album b-side “Evil Twin” sat in between).

The organ drenched “Pretty Visitors” from 2009 led into “I Wanna Be Yours” from AM. The song takes the iconic (again…in the U.K. anyway) poem of same name by John Cooper Clarke and turns it into a rock-take on a slow jam. Thursday night’s performance of “I Wanna Be Yours” saw the crowd pull out their smartphones and turn on the flashlight app — this century’s version of holding a lighter in the air — to set the mood and create a surreal moment.

For all the songs from AM in the lineup, it was the band’s 2007 sophomore album Favourite Worst Nightmare that got the final words in the main set. The album is perhaps Arctic Monkeys greatest triumph, if for no other reason than it justified the hype that greeted their debut, and its best song, “Fluorescent Adolescent,” brought the energy level of the crowd to even greater heights. Special guest and longtime Turner collaborator Miles Kane came out next to add scorching guitar work to Nightmare’s moody “505” and send the band offstage.

The encore began with disco balls and Turner on acoustic guitar for the all-time Monkeys classic “Cornerstone,” but it was AM that would close things out with “One for the Road” and “R U Mine?” It was fitting, because it really was the band’s latest album that dominated Thursday night. Would it have been cool to hear favorites like “Mardy Bum” and “Brick by Brick”? Of course, but there will be time for “greatest hits” tours in the future. As of early 2014, Arctic Monkeys are living in the now and the U.S. has never loved them more for it.

Arctic Monkeys played:

Main set:
Do I Wanna Know?
Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair
Snap Out of It
Crying Lightning
Reckless Serenade
Knee Socks
Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?
Dancing Shoes
Evil Twin
I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor
Pretty Visitors
I Wanna Be Yours
Fluorescent Adolescent
505 (with Miles Kane)

One for the Road
R U Mine?

Adam Ellsworth is a writer, journalist, and amateur professional rock and roll historian. His writing on rock music has appeared on the websites YNE Magazine,, Online Music Reviews, and Metronome Review. His non-rock writing has appeared in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, on Wakefield Patch, and elsewhere. Adam has a MS in Journalism from Boston University and a BA in Literature from American University. He grew up in Western Massachusetts, and currently lives with his wife in a suburb of Boston. You can follow Adam on Twitter @adamlz24.

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