Arctic Monkeys at The Woodlands, 10/30/2014
Photos by Violeta Alvarez
Arctic Monkeys Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion October 30, 2014
Once this whole Ebola thing dies down a little, there are worse ways the Centers for Disease Control could spend taxpayer money than investigating the likely spike in the birth rate between now and the late-2013 release of the Arctic Monkeys' latest album, AM. These blokes might be dangerous.
OK, not really. But that the UK rockers could inspire such a thought, based solely on their Woodlands performance Thursday night and the crowd reaction it inspired, speaks volumes not only about the band's charisma onstage, but the almost overwhelming amount of sensuality in their songs.
It was screams, screams and more screams. The covered portion of the Mitchell Pavilion wasn't even completely full, but you'd never know by the decibel level. People were into it; some of them even put away their smartphones. And I'm pretty sure I saw one nearby fan make a certain gesture toward singer Alex Turner she wouldn't want her mother reading about in the newspaper.
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But it's not that surprising that the Monkeys are so popular. First of all, Turner has got the look: classic slicked-back pompadour, teen-idol cheekbones and the interesting ensemble of a leather jacket he wears every bit as well as Joey Ramone over a bowling shirt straight out of The Sopranos. It's not mathematically possible to get much cooler than that. To me, he looks a lot like hell-raising former Houston roots-rocker Jesse Dayton too, but that's neither here nor there.
Now add songs that are often much closer to after-hours R&B than rock and roll, where the primary goal seems to be the immediate seduction of anyone within earshot. The probing, ominous riff of "Do I Wanna Know?", which since becoming a modern-rock radio staple has further proved its value as an inhibition-loosener by appearing in a Bacardi commercial, set a prurient tone right away. Later, the kinky bump and grind of "Knee Socks" and back-room-of-the-club assignation "Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?" screamed transgression, like some of the darker corners of the Stones' Some Girls.
During the encore, a pair of disco balls not-so-subtly emerged onstage during "I Wanna Be Yours," but the entire concert might as well have been lit by a lava lamp. Other pillars of this current Britpop revival can come off a bit neutered -- looking your way, Sam Smith and Bastille -- but not the Monkeys.
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Even the songs that weren't quite so hormonally charged were still pretty electric, though. Until Turner brought out an acoustic guitar late in the set to serenade the crowd with "Cornerstone," he and his three mates, particularly lead guitarist Jamie Cook, had been jabbing and throttling their instruments nonstop without much of a break. (The band hardly said anything all night, outside Turner's early remark about their pleasure to be back in Houston.)
In forging their identity, the Monkeys now have five decades of their countrymen's guitar music to pick and choose from, and they've chosen very well. Cook put a little Black Sabbath backspin on "Arabella," Turner's spider-to-the-fly tale I like to imagine is about the Harry Potter books, plus some slinky Beatles overtones on "Crying Lightning" and fine Zeppery all the way at the very end of the encore, during "R U Mine?"
No sooner had I looked down to write "too bad nobody waves lighters anymore" in my notebook during "No. 1 Party Anthem" did a sea of ivory smartphone flashlights start winking toward the stage. A close cousin to Oasis' "Champagne Supernova," the song from AM demonstrates as keen a sense of British irony as any of the Monkeys' ancestors; it's more like a tune you'd hear when someone is putting all the abandoned drinks into a trash bag and emptying out the ashtrays. This band understands the price partying can exact, and thus far that's been a price they've been not only willing to pay, but to turn into some of their best material to date.
About the only song that really pegged them to the specific moment in pop history when they emerged, the disco-rock craze spearheaded by Franz Ferdinand in the mid-2000s, came relatively early with "Dancing Shoes." That it was just the one song speaks well of the Monkeys' elasticity, and suggests we'll be seeing them again somewhere down the road. And when they come back, the Pavilion's ushers can be forgiven for thinking they ought to be handing out birth control.
Personal Bias: Big fan of the Brits.
The Crowd: Selfie after selfie after selfie. Not as many costumes as you might think.
Overheard In the Crowd: "I hope we miss the opening act." (For the record, L.A.'s Ken Wakan were perfectly fine, a sort of sultry and soulful latter-day Portishead. The dude in the seat next me thought the singer sounded a lot like Fiona Apple, and he was right.)
Random Notebook Dump: They're like a less arch Kinks.
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