Minutes before the Arctic Monkeys concert opened with “Sculptures of Anything Goes,” the 9,000 or so people in the audience stood in quiet anticipation. A girl a few rows beside me already had her phone camera on, a cup of beer in her other hand.
“Remember,” she tells her friend. “This will power my life for 10 more years.”
It’s been a week since the Arctic Monkeys concert, and I am here to report that our good sis was absolutely right. It’s as if a lifeforce has been restored in me, a bloom of youth that has made the weeklong slog bearable. Deadlines, meetings, and the occasional personal crises are immediately soothed by the guitar licks on “Do I Wanna Know” or the absolute chaos in “Brianstorm.” No mental breakdown, it seems, can overcome the power of Alex Turner’s baritone.
It’s hard to write about the Arctic Monkeys without regressing to one’s younger self — a teenager in 2007 who could only dream of her favorite rock band coming to Manila for a concert. These days, Manila stops are becoming more frequent among international artists’ Asian tours. With a little more purchasing power and back pain, today’s millennials were able to see the likes of Dashboard Confessional and the nth return of Phoenix at Wanderland 2023, and now a standalone Arctic Monkeys concert. All in one weekend, mind you. At the risk of sounding too old-man-yells-at-cloud, kids today don’t realize how good they have it.
But maybe they came at the right time. The rise of indie sleaze as an aesthetic trend brought back the sound of the 2010s to the forefront, and the Arctic Monkeys play a seminal role in this nostalgia. Arctic Monkeys, a four-piece rock band from the UK features a rather dexterous crew: Alex Turner on lead vocals, guitar, keyboards; Jamie Cook on guitar and keyboards; Nick O'Malley on bass guitar and backing vocals, and Matt Helders drums and backing vocals. Helders and Turner are the founding members of the group, having grown up together in Sheffield. Turner inarguably is, and I have said this earlier, the group’s Nicole Scherzinger. Aside from being the face of the group, he is also their main lyricist and composer. Turner’s skillful turn of phrase has been praised by critics, described by The Guardian as a “man-of-the-people, kitchen-sink writing style.”
Though fame never quite left the Arctic Monkeys since they came out with “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” in 2006, the band has been known for their elusiveness and discomfort with the media attention. In a way, the group has repeatedly pushed back on their popularity by making music that has no regard for popular taste. When they released “Humbug” in 2009, fans were disappointed with the psychedelic influences on the album. Following the massive popularity of “AM,” the band went on to do the space-inspired “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino.”
And while their music has always found a way to connect to millions of avid fans, the members themselves continue to be reserved even onstage. At the Manila concert, Turner’s non-musical interactions with the crowd consisted of a few sentences between songs. A friend who had seen them at Clockenflap that weekend said the same could be said during their Hong Kong gig.
Perhaps the band limits their talking because the songs speak for themselves, and each live performance is a chance to commune over lyrics that resonated with an entire generation. Turner’s singing voice is sublime to hear live, and Helders kept the energy high during drum-heavy songs like “Brianstorm” and “Teddy Picker.” It helped, too, that the venue’s audio setup delivered amazing sound. “Why’d you only ever phone me when you’re high,” the audience sings back to the band — an example of the group’s straightforward, confessional lyrics on their most hip hop-leaning record. In the song’s music video on YouTube, username Fei had this to say: “Arctic Monkeys' songs [make] people feel like they are madly in love with someone… It unlocks a bunch of memories in my head.”
Such is the power of song and memory — a familiar beat goes off and one is instantly brought back to a different time. For me and maybe even for many Arctic Monkeys fans out there, the concert was a way to revisit something from long ago. While in line for Thai food before the show, I saw a man in his forties wearing skinny jeans and Doc Martens. He pulled out a fine toothed comb and retouched his pompadour. It was a Look and I fully respected that. Hours later, I’d hear my favorite song “505” play live in a fresh, brighter piano-driven arrangement during the encore. I felt waves crashing within me. In this version, Turner sings it with an even lower vocal register, a weariness and acceptance that perhaps he is no longer singing the song like he did so many years ago. But that’s the thing with nostalgia. The memory will always feel like a bruise, tender to the touch and takes forever to fade.