Sigh. Here’s the part where I have to preface this post with a disclaimer. Over the years, someone will occasionally tell me that I’m a hipster because I happened to have known of a few now-famous British bands, from 2005 on, years before other people. Occasionally, I even sound like a hipster when I mention the fact. But anyone who knows me well knows I’m not a hipster. I’m too much of a dork to be a hipster. And not a dork in a cool way. I just, I don’t know, have gotten lucky. Okay, now, that’s not correct either. It’s really more like this. Take the fact that I’m a huge Anglophile and combine it with the internet, and you have me knowing about and seeing bands before they’ve hit it big. Really, if it wasn’t for the fact that I’ve made friends with British people and traveled to and gone to music festivals in the UK, combined with LiveJournal communities, band forums, and *gasp* MySpace, I would have been just like everyone else.
(Insider tip: One band I tried to get people to listen to for a year and a half before they became famous was Mumford and Sons. So, let me just tell you, that if you like them, you should check out Laura Marling, who has gotten a little bigger, but still pretty much flies under the radar. They come from the same London scene of new guard folk-rock bands, and Mumford and Sons used to open for Laura. And they actually did the music for her first two albums [before Laura and Marcus Mumford broke up, thereby ending one of the most amazing musical collaborations ever, sigh].)
So having gone to see Arctic Monkeys last night at Webster Hall, another one of my knew-them-first bands, I was split in two by one part nostalgia and one part horror at the band’s current following. Actually, the band’s current everything.
Not sure if Alex Turner or Elvis
I first saw the Arctic Monkeys at the Carling Stage at Leeds Festival in 2005, having already been familiar with their demos from the internet. The sets they played at Reading and Leeds that year are legendary. It was the smallest of the tents at the festival, and it was so crowded, you couldn’t get inside if you hadn’t gotten there early. That was fine. I stood on the periphery, just making it under the very last of the tent. And then I saw them for their first two shows in New York. And other various shows.
I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with the Arctic Monkeys. (And have always seemed to have a lot to say about them!) I loved their music, but objected to the ridiculous hype surrounding them, claiming their debut album was the album of the decade, that this 19-year-old pipsqueak was the “voice of a generation.” I also hated their apparent derision of the massive success they had achieved (see the “That man just yawned” incident when they played Saturday Night Live at the age of 19 and looked like they were bored playing). For a band who skyrocketed to the top at such a young age, I confess, I wanted to see a little bit more…excitement, gratitude, and maybe just a little bit of awe. They always seemed like they just couldn’t be bothered. With you, with it, with anything.
But, as my blog post urges readers to do, I still went to see them when I could. Well, until I seemed to outgrow their music. Or maybe they outgrew me. Or we evolved in different ways. Well, really, did anyone like Humbug or Suck It and See? (Apparently, yes.) I can’t actually remember even seeing them in support of Favourite Worst Nightmare, which I did really like. But it’s been such a long time since they’ve played a venue as small as Webster Hall, that when my friend asked me if I wanted to go, I said yes.
Standing in line, I was surrounded by teenagers. I was so confused. Was this 2013 or 2006? Shouldn’t the teenage fans I stood in line with years ago be adults by now? I heard teenagers lamenting over possible counterfeit tickets and how they would JUST DIE if they didn’t get in, and how it was “OMG MY THIRD TIME SEEING THEM.” To be met with, “You’re so lucky, it’s my first!” I was told by a 19-year-old boy in line that in fact their new album, AM, is outstanding, despite my not being amazed by it, and advised to look up a specific old gig on YouTube (which hadn’t even taken off back when I was first listening to the band and seeing them perform). (He was duly impressed by my having seen their set at Leeds festival in 2005, despite him telling me my opinion of the new album was WRONG.) (Not in so many words.)
Standing inside the venue waiting for the bands to come on, I overheard teenage girls saying things like, “So you have to flash them. And then they’ll bring us backstage,” and “They have a stripper pole?! (referring to the room where the band waits before they come on which is visible from the floor) Why am I not up there?!” (I know they were teenage girls, because one of them asked the other how 19 was going, and she said the same. To which the other one replied that she is only ever having her 18th birthday from now on.)
Welcome to the new wave of Arctic Monkeys fans: They’re young, they’re opinionated, they’re sexually aggressive, they’re pushy, and they need to wear deodorant. (Seriously. That place SMELLED.)
I have nothing against teenagers, especially teenagers discovering good music, but where were all the adults?! The frightening thing is, I think that they were only the people ON the stage. All the members of the Arctic Monkeys look like they have grown up, well, except for Alex. But in a scary way. I was actually alarmed to see Jamie Cook now (second from right), and remember what he looked like then. I know, I know, people grow up. But when did Nick O’Malley turn into Jack White?!
But they have grown up. I used to hate the derision and superiority they would have while playing, and the cockiness I didn’t feel they had earned. Well, now Alex Turner is cocky as hell, in a strutting, posing, sparkly jacket wearing, pompadour combing, waiting for the girls to scream at him way. (The teenage girls.) There was a moment I found so cringeworthy, I actually turned my head and laughed. But I guess I should be glad he’s developed some kind of stage presence??
For me, though, the telling moment was when, halfway through the show he asked the room, “Were any of you at our other show?” I couldn’t quite tell if he meant their other show recently or if he meant any other show at all of theirs. He followed that up with, “I don’t even know why I’m asking. I don’t care.” But don’t you maybe just a little bit, Alex?
Because, congratulations, Arctic Monkeys. You seem to have an entirely new fanbase made up of teenagers. Teenagers who REALLY dig your current music and also like your old music, but who already know your just recently released album by heart. While people like me, people who really loved you when you came out, well, we’re not so sure if we’ll be back. And not just because this was the roughest show I’ve been to in years. (To the girl who tried to shove me out of my spot: Yes, I will use my elbows. I’ve been doing this a lot longer than you, sweetheart.)
To be fair, the friend who I went with tonight has liked them for 8 years and loves AM, and probably does not feel the same way as I do. She and the 19-year-old boy on line were trying to explain to me why the album is excellent, because it “brought back the funk” that was missing in their last 2 albums. But she walked away from the show completely disappointed that she had waited all this time to finally see them live, and they hadn’t played “Fake Tales of San Francisco.”
And I guess that kind of sums up my problem with the current iteration of the band. I don’t like them “bringing back the funk,” I liked them when they rocked the hell out. Even if they did it with an unearned swagger.
I wanted to hear “Fake Tales,” too. I wanted to hear “Mardy Bum,” “A Certain Romance,” “View from the Afternoon,” “When the Sun Goes Down,” “From the Ritz to the Rubble.” And they wanted to play their new music. (Again, to be fair, they played a lot of the songs I love from Favourite Worst Nightmare.)
But it’s an epidemic, these days. Every new album a band puts out, they consider it growth and evolution, and SO MUCH BETTER than the SHITE they had written earlier in their careers. (All the bands I know who are doing this are British, so they would say, “Shite,” yes.) Their new material is TOO GOOD, and they’ve just grown TOO MUCH, and evolved away from those songs. But they forget that those songs earned them a following. Even a reluctant one, like me.
(And it’s not all bands. Franz Ferdinand seem to have managed to develop and evolve, while still retaining their essence, the quality that made people like them to begin with. Even on their new album, you can see the growth, but they’re recognizable as the same band. And upon first listen, I vastly prefer Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action to AM.)
Because whenever a band decides that they are no longer going to play their most popular songs, they run the risk of alienating the fan base that got them where they are. Arctic Monkey’s debut album, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, broke records in the UK. They became famous without even having put out an album, just off of those first tracks circulating on the internet. I have a copy of Five Minutes With Arctic Monkeys (from eBay, years ago, okay?! I’m not that old school) and I still prefer those versions of the songs to the ones on the debut.
(Another band I love, Frightened Rabbit, have also stopped playing one of their best songs at shows. I’m seeing them in October, and I’ve heard that their recent set is made up primarily of songs off their most recent album, ignoring their most popular songs from their breakthrough album, The Midnight Organ Fight. I’m not going to lie. I’m a bit worried.)
But you know what? I’m truly glad for Arctic Monkeys, that a new school of people are discovering them, and they’re able to continue what they’re doing and have a strong fan base, even if it’s not the one that they started with. I meant every word I wrote about Alex Turner clearly being extremely talented. And talented people should be successful.
I can’t speak for all the people who were there at the beginning—and the people who were really there at the beginning, who saw them gigging in Sheffield, the people who first traded around those mp3s—but I, for one, wouldn’t necessarily put myself through that again. (Unless maybe I adore the next album.) I have my memories and my mp3s, and that will have to be enough.