Weeks of heat across South Wales made for a sultry, smoky evening outside the Liberty Stadium in Swansea, the air full of expectation: dusty roads and yellow verges as cars dropped off revellers; people, everywhere; Marshals; fences and queues; the smell of perfume, cigarettes, cherry vapes and the clopping of police horses. Everywhere, groups of sunburnt people congregate outside pubs, finding any patch of grass to lounge in bucket hats and swill pints of lager, cider; discarded bottles in bushes; squeezing yourself through noisy groups, shoulder to shoulder, bound for the gates.
Inside the stadium, home of Swansea City F.C. and the Ospreys Rugby Team, the tight, punky Swedish outfit The Hives raise the temperature in their sweat-soaked matching suits, that show streaks of black lightning bolts; the lead singer Pelle Almqvist swaggers, provokes; a frenetic, floppy-fringed character but this is not their evening – at this place and in this time – because the mass are here for the Arctic Monkeys; Brit pop, Brit Rock godfathers in their late 30s, the Sheffield band who are at the top of their game after a seemingly unfeasible 21 years of success.
The Arctic Monkeys took their time to get on the stage, over half an hour past their expected time, and even if this was unintentional, this was a band who very much do things their way. Alex Turner, the 37 year-old lead singer, ambled onto the stage with massive sunnies and rock and roll garb – Kelly Jones meets Brian Ferry – to explosively croon, full-throated, pitch and note perfect in a late-stage, Britpop style, recalling distantly the glories of the Gallaghers and bands, such as Kasabian, Space, The Libertines and Cast; Turner certainly has the mannered voice of this long movement.
They were at their best, garnered the most audience engagement with the loud, noisy, guitar-dominated, anthemic songs, such as Mardy Bum, Don’t Sit down ‘Cos I’ve Moved your Chair and Brainstorm (Motorhead / ACDC-esque riffs and guitar licks); arguably less impactful with the slower songs, which make the Arctics, for me, slightly less interesting, more generic, perhaps a little sonically slushy, despite the bitterness and intensity of some of their lyrics when they go for There’d Better Be a Mirrorball or Bodypaint (tinnitus reduction songs). This contrast divides fan groups with many staking their loyalty vociferously to the ballads. But the ballads are battered into the ground by the brilliance of songs like 505 (impossible not to jump, accompanied by proper chills).
The Arctic Monkeys are undeniably brilliant, especially when they lose it and when they do, the vast audience does; Turner is at his most enigmatic as a frontman with the shades on like a rocking Kelly Jones/ Brian Ferry. There’s little chat with the crowd, no banter but they give it to you in an impressively uncompromising way. If the band remember this gig, there’ll recall a sea of faces who seemed to know every word; fans who couldn’t keep their eyes off them, and later on in the darkness with phone torches held overhead in reverence.