Arctic Monkeys thaw out chilly Summerfest opening night crowd
Out in the enthusiastic crowd, the frosty, foggy weather that lingered throughout Summerfest's opening day certainly didn't make things feel like a summer celebration of music. Luckily, even if the weather didn't seem fitting of the opening day of Summerfest, from its first growling number, the beloved punky British rock band Arctic Monkeys' solid 90-minute show proved to be a more than worthy way to crack open this year's festival.
Though the band has been around since the beginning of the last decade, the Arctic Monkeys' mainstream success has been a fairly new development over the past few years. The band scattered a few alternative radio hits over the last 10 years, but 2013's album "AM" ended up being its breakthrough, featuring major hits like "R U Mine?" and "Do I Wanna Know?" The result was one of the largest ground stage shows on Summerfest 2014's inaugural night, packing the bleachers at the Miller Lite Oasis.
Fans who saw the Arctic Monkeys' most recent Milwaukee show at the 102.1 Big Snow Show at the Rave last December might have had a slight case of déjà vu as the show opened with the same number, the band's growling, drunkenly rocking hit single "Do I Wanna Know?" Much to the enjoyment or dismay of those in the crowd, gone was the harsh backlighting rendering lead singer Alex Turner and the rest of the band faceless dark silhouettes (I landed pro-backlighting, but general opinion seemed split), replaced instead by a stage filled with flashing lights and white fog (because the day needed more fog).
The song, however, was a strong, pounding, stomp-happy hit, mixed almost perfectly. From there, the band deviated a bit from its past, more condensed setlist with hits from across its discography. Turner and company stayed with "AM" for "Snap Out Of It" and "Arabella" before moving onto some earlier cuts, namely "Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair," "Brainstorm" and "Dancing Shoes."
The band continued through more hits, powering through growling hard rock guitars and punky old school British rock-fueled numbers. Eventually, Arctic Monkeys moved into a bit of a dreamier, funkier groove with "Knee Socks," complete with light falsetto. As the show went further on, Turner switched to an acoustic guitar as well for the combination of "No. 1 Party Anthem" and "Suck It and See."
Some of the songs near the middle chunk of the set list, while certainly not bad or poorly played at all, lost a bit of the opening third's energy. "I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor" was surrounded on both sides by "My Propeller" and the combination of "Library Pictures" and "Fireside," and while those three numbers weren't bad – they were just as head-bob worthy as the rest – they weren't awesomely memorable.
The quality rock sound was always consistent, however, and Turner even more so. With his slicked back hair, boozy British drawl and occasional tossed off flirty hand moves or hip sways, the lead singer had plenty of rock star swagger (he's got the look and sound of a 1950s "bad boy," complete with a cigarette as he walked out for the three-song encore), dispensing it across the Oasis stage. He's not a particularly chatty performer – which is fine; most came for rock, not story time – but his little shout outs to Milwaukee, mixed in with a little commentary about the chilly weather, were appreciated.
Despite the few enjoyable, if not ferociously memorable, lulls near the middle, Arctic Monkeys closed with a kick, ending with a suitably sedated, groovy rendition of "Why's You Only Call Me When You're High?," the punky, rollicking yearning of "Fluorescent Adolescent" and the fitting finale "505."
As expected, there was an encore as well (though the crowd didn't exactly earn it with some lukewarm chant attempts and applause). "One for the Road" speaks for itself, and, in a brief display of moderately theatrical flash, the heartsick jam "I Wanna Be Yours" was accompanied by a starry disco ball light show. The band wrapped up the encore set predictably, but no less satisfyingly, with "R U Mine?," complete with a teasing, drawn out finish for entertainingly dramatic effect.
The Arctic Monkeys won't blow your mind with fancy theatrics or anything around those lines. They're more of an old school rock outfit, playing strong, consistent, perfectly mixed sets (unlike their mismatched lead-in San Fermin, whose vocalists were far too low) with a little punky verve. You don't get surprises really from Arctic Monkeys; you just get a damn fine rock show that'll get your body moving. And on a less-than-summery night, the Arctic Monkeys thankfully left the crowd everything but cold.
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