Concert Review: Arctic Monkeys at TD Garden
By Adam Ellsworth
The band’s performance was stellar. Its setlist was on point: a bit of the new, a bit more of the early stuff, and a whole lot of AM. In America, in 2023, that’s just good fan service.
Partway through the Arctic Monkeys’ Sunday night concert at TD Garden, the college-aged girl I was standing next to turned and asked me if I, like she, was familiar with the band’s “early stuff.”
Since I’m familiar with all stages of the group’s career, I nodded in the affirmative, but if I’m being honest, I didn’t really understand what she meant. What exactly was her definition of “early stuff?” The tracks from the band’s 2006 debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, which, unlike her, I’m old enough to have bought in CD form when it was new, would obviously count. And I assumed the follow-up, 2007’s Favourite Worst Nightmare, would qualify as primal Monkey music. But how far back was she thinking? Did she mean anything released prior to the band’s foray into lounge lizard music, 2018’s Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino and 2022’s (excellent) The Car?
As the concert progressed, the answer became obvious. What my new friend meant by “early stuff” was, “anything before AM.” That monster of an album from 2013 was the dividing line, and the songs off of it were what she and the rest of the overwhelmingly young, primarily female, audience came to hear.
I can’t say I’m totally surprised. While Arctic Monkeys have been huge in their native UK since they were barely out of their teens, it took longer for them to truly break through Stateside. AM, with its mix of mammoth guitar riffs and hip-hop beats, was the record that finally put them over the top. Of the band’s four songs that have more than a billion plays on Spotify, three of them are from AM. Six of the band’s 10 most streamed tracks come from the album, and all 12 cuts from the record land in the group’s Spotify top 30. This is hardly the only way to gauge relative popularity within a band’s catalogue, but considering the makeup of the TD Garden audience, it’s not a bad way to understand what the kids are into.
Of course I didn’t know any of these stats Sunday night. I dug them up to prove that I wasn’t imagining things, and that AM’s “Snap Out of It,” a song I’ve never thought much about, really did produce a bigger pop from the crowd than such established “early” classics as “Brianstorm” (14th-most streamed) and “Teddy Picker” (15th-most streamed). Turns out “Snap Out of It” is the eighth-most streamed Arctic Monkeys song, and that I wasn’t imagining anything.
This went on throughout the night. Even relative AM deep cuts like “Fireside” and “Knee Socks” were met with rapturous excitement, while the response to the one-two punch of “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” and “Arabella” (admittedly an inspired pairing, even before I knew they were both top-seven streamers) was seismic.
This is not to suggest that the non-AM cuts flopped, or fell on deaf ears. “Cornerstone,” from 2009’s Humbug, inspired a cellphone-in-place-of-lighters singalong, and during the encore, I actually felt the balcony shake multiple times during “505” from Favourite Worst Nightmare. Then again “505” is the band’s only billion-streamer that doesn’t appear on AM, so maybe this should have been expected.
All of which leads me to “Do I Wanna Know?” and “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor.” The former, from AM, has been streamed (as of September 4, 2023) 1,838,475,958 times on Spotify, making it the most listened to Arctic Monkeys track on the app. If Spotify isn’t your thing, perhaps you remember it from that Bacardi commercial or the Peaky Blinders episode. It is the one Arctic Monkeys song people (in America) know even if they don’t know they know it. Not surprisingly then, “rapturous excitement” and “seismic” do not begin to explain the crowd’s reaction when they heard the song’s opening guitar riff. “Euphoric” is probably closer, though whatever the adjective, it was certainly a moment.
A moment I assumed would be repeated for “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor.” The earliest of the early stuff, “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” is to the Arctic Monkeys what “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” is to the Rolling Stones. It’s their theme song, a tune so iconic they played it at the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics. Not that this means anything to an American teenager in 2023. It’s not like the song was treated as a mass bathroom break opportunity, and of course crowd members of all ages sang along to it, but there was no flash of recognition at the guitar intro or squeal of delight when the verse began. Sunday night’s crowd would have rather heard “Snap Out of It” again. Check the streaming numbers if you need proof.
But enough about Spotify data and crowd reactions. None of that has anything to do with the band’s actual performance, which was stellar. Frontman Alex Turner was the natural focal point, commanding the stage with a slim-fit suit and perfect head of hair. The closest comparison I can come up with for Turner’s stage presence is David Bowie. Like Bowie, Turner doesn’t dance about or strike rock star poses so much as he takes basic arm and hand movements and executes them with great theatricality.
This performance style was best suited to the lounge rock of The Car, but it seeped its way into everything in the set, giving even that early stuff a fresh feel. In total, only three songs from The Car were played: the main set opener “Sculptures of Anything Goes,” and closer “Body Paint,” as well as the first song of the encore, “There’d Better Be a Mirrorball.” It would have been great to hear at least one more (“Hello You” would have slayed live), but this is a minor complaint. The setlist was ultimately on point. A bit of the new, a bit more of the early stuff, and a whole lot of AM. In America, in 2023, that’s just good fan service.
Naturally then, the night closed with “R U Mine?,” as most of the group’s shows have for the past 10 years. It’s an AM track, yes, but as it was originally released as a standalone single in 2012, it also predates that album by more than a year. The first time I saw the band perform it live, in March 2012, they were opening for the Black Keys, and still a year away from their US breakthrough. By the time they got to “R U Mine?” Sunday night, it was pretty clear that the Boston crowd was, and that Arctic Monkeys are never going to be anybody’s opening act again. I have the data to prove it.
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, KevChino.com, 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 an 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.