The Arctic Monkey’s first record, “Whatever You Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not,” was a concept album about being bored out of one’s mind in Sheffield, England, and with tales of dance floor ennui and pseudo-cosmopolitans at the corner shop, it resonated well beyond Yorkshire, to any town in the world that offers nothing on a Saturday night but drink, talk of escape, and an endless sea of blinking red lights.
So it was surprising when the four-piece came on stage at a sold-out 9:30 Club Wednesday, touring behind new release “Favourite Worst Nightmare,” like they were the biggest rock group in the world. For a band known for songs about being bored, the Arctic Monkeys put on a hell of a show.
The night began with a white-hot sugar set by teenage rioters Be Your Own Pet. The Nashville kids had clearly listened to their Ramones records (or their parents’ Ramones records), and their rapid succession of three minute garage punk blasts danced delightfully on the edge of sex, violence, chaos, and ridiculousness. Then the lads took the stage with a staggering confidence, a confidence that just shouldn’t be there from a band that sings songs about getting hassled by bouncers and the emotional intricacies of the fallout of one-night stands.
But there they were, with a Mick Jagger light show going off behind them, and as singer Alex Turner tore in to his tales of existentialism in track shoes, one couldn’t help but believe, really believe, that maybe this band really was as big as the rabid British press claims. Turner especially was a revelation, as he dissected everything he saw with turns of phrase, hiding his barbs behind a not-quite-there smile that would have come across as smug if he didn’t convince you that he just knew more about what was going on than anyone in the room.
The band concentrated heavily on more straight-ahead rockers like their first hit, “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor,” “Teddy Picker,” and the lead single “Brianstorm” from their new record. The audience responded by whirling and colliding shambolically in a way unfortunately foreign to most indie shows. Just for a moment it seemed like the place might actually fall apart – there was just a hint of actual danger, of the possibility that everything might come crashing down in a heap of sweat and song and screams if it just.pushed.a.little.farther.
And then the Arctic Monkeys did what they do best- they turned it down a little bit, and Turner offered pub-life vignettes like “When the Sun Goes Down,” painting tales of tired-eyed prostitutes and disaffected youth with all the care he can find in the plastic and grime of the world he sees, reminding us that rock clubs aren’t the only places where things spiral out of control, and that it’s not always as beautiful as it was that night.
But oh that night, we had that night.