13 Apr 2010: Cain's Ballroom Tulsa, OK
When Britain’s youthful Arctic Monkeys took the stage at Tulsa’s historic Cain’s Ballroom, they opened with “Dance Little Liar”. This was, indeed, a regrettable fault on the band’s part, as this song is virtually unrecognizable (relative to Arctic Monkeys’ musically and lyrically uncompromising and gritty, energetic songs on its first two albums - but mainly its seminal and near-Elysian debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006). But more to the matter: fundamentally, “Dance Little Liar” is rather symbolic of so many tracks on Humbug (2009), largely a lyrically abstract and musically low-key and mellow LP. It has, however, been favorably praised by a quite astonishing array of critics who, perhaps, have heavily consumed their fair share of British press-pushed and peddled fruit juice; maybe something else. The band had to explore and move on. Unfortunately, hype has its limits sometimes, even if Mick Jagger digs your band.
What precisely is wrong with “Dance Little Liar”? Not only is it entirely average, but it underscores nothing but a depressing and sad vapidity and slowness, and its atmospheric nature encourages a lack of showmanship. Let me put it in this vein: this song was played but it most certainly was not performed, and a devastating tedium, in turn, sunk in right off the bat. Weekend rock stars likely headed toward the toilets. Monkeys would have been far better off if they had opened with a blistering and brief song from their debut. Instead, the opening song proved something of an animal’s entrails. The band, appallingly, played roughly eight songs from Humbug. This initial song stood, then, as a prescient reminder that Arctic Monkeys would, indeed, not be doing too much by way of actual performance, nor would it accede and play hardly anything from the fairly groundbreaking debut album (only three songs). This gig wasn’t totally horrific but it was surely disillusioning: circumstances and decisions invariably doomed tonight’s gig from any sense of excellence, authenticity, and viability of performance.
Don’t expect to witness Arctic Monkeys in the next Royal Shakespeare Production anytime soon, or, for that matter, at Voyeur in West Hollywood. Political analysts have referred to Obama as “No Drama Obama”; well, these critics haven’t seen an Arctic Monkeys gig. Arctic Monkeys, especially singer Alex Turner, seemed trapped in a prison house of sorts, forever disconnected and segregated from the curious and eager crowd. Turner, no doubt, was aware of this dilemma. To his credit, he clapped his hands on at least two occasions; he also slowed down his vocals on a few songs – all in an attempt to engage the audience. But to no avail, and cheap, flashing lights and a hyperactive lead guitarist, Jamie Cook, did little to help. Too much trauma already was inflicted.
Ironically, the patent lack of showmanship betrayed a remarkably strong point: the band’s work ethic is commendable. During “505”, Turner’s dual emphasis on vocal and guitar nuance was certainly evident, and, in fact, during the entire set the band’s sedulousness and effort were more than apparent. Their renditions of “Still Take You Home”, the swirling guitar of “Brainstorm”, “I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor”, and “Do Me a Favour” were nearly pristine, both convincing and satisfying - prominently displaying Turner’s tough, ironic verbal take on seedy pub life in England, but also what put Monkeys on the musical map.
Due to the shoddy acoustics in Cain’s, Turner’s vocals were barely audible. Turner’s Sheffield accent is singular and unique indeed, and it was a shame that it could not be fully appreciated, as it’s a key part of the band’s appeal to many fans. Three songs from Humbug did have considerable sway on the crowd – the two singles “My Propeller” and “Crying Lightning” but also “Pretty Visitors.” The latter song was perhaps closest to the witty and mature profanity on the band’s debut, but it also was remarkable because Turner came out of his shell, grabbing the mic and wandering the stage with true bravado.
But during most of the gig, fans could barely see Turner’s face; his longish brown hair covered his facial features. That is, save for a notable song during the encore, from Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007) “Fluorescent Adolescent”, Turner brushed aside his mop and peeked into the crowd, likely to see if he was actually playing a live gig, and to see if people were present. (One got the unbelievable sense that he thought he was in some run-down garage in his native Sheffield, and not the famous garage – or dive - of Cain’s). But the main point is that this song, which Turner triumphantly announced, should have been the veritable apex of the show. It wasn’t to be, however; just when one expected a breaking, revelatory, and cathartic moment, Turner’s voice (or vocals) during key lyrics at the beginning of the song (a critical point) went almost mum, nearly inscrutable, and the band appeared not to notice. Thus, this sealed the deal in terms of a very disappointing performance. Let’s hope it was just one bad show and nothing more.