Went with my sister-in-law, my niece and my wife to see the Arctic Monkeys on Saturday night. My niece (I guess being 12) is deeply uncynical and originally wanted to get there as soon as the doors opened at 6pm so as not to miss any of the action and the promised "Special Guests" supporting the Arctics. I managed to convince her that this would be deeply uncool so we compromised on 7pm. My actual choice (as is my wont these days) would have been to arrive 5 minutes before the band came on when the bar's nice and quiet and you're less likely to get in any fights with drunks.
The upside of being there so early is that there were no queues at the booths were you get your drink tokens. One token cost £1.75 and a pint of Carlsberg in a self-destructing paper cup that allows you 10 minutes to drink your beer before it starts leaking on your shoes costs 2 tokens. Soft-drinks are a token each. I didn't look any further than that. So with drinks we went and stood near the stage just as the lights went down for what turned out to be the first of the two support acts.
Alexandra Palace is as big and grand as the name suggests and also slightly shit as a venue to see bands. Cavernous and lacking in any charm on the inside, it could actually be worse in that it could all be seating but then you might actually be able to see what's happening on the stage without resorting to the giant video monitors on each side of the stage. If I wanted to watch a band on TV I'd go to Glastonbury or stay home. The first band were like a sixties Arctic Monkeys: singer/guitarist and some mates on drums and bass and northern floppy haircuts. Pretty entertaining I didn't know who they were until later as their name was written somewhat incomprehensibly on the bass drum. It turns out they were The Rascals and you can hear their tunes on MySpace or buy their EP which is out today.
After they left there was another long pause while we jostled down the front with the crowd. This wasn't just my niece's idea, I think her mother was also keen on spending the next 90 minutes or so by the stage waiting for the main show to begin. It gave me a chance to survey the crowd who were (to me who doesn't get out too much) an interesting bunch. The large group of lads immediately to my left reminded me most of football fans in the 'eighties: smart casual, little animal logos on their polo shirts and jumpers, sharp haircuts, plain white trainers. They popped some pills, smoked in a vaguely surreptitious fashion cupping their hands around their cigarettes and drank beers with spirit chasers and looked at me menacingly as I clocked their outfits. By way of a total contrast there was a young group of boys, maybe on the verge of starting shaving, all colourful T-shirts and Oasis hair who I figured to be a bunch of posh school boys dropped off by parents for the evening. I liked them, they weren't scary and they apologised when they pushed into you. Elsewhere there were couples, small groups of girls who'd dressed up - nothing terribly remarkable. And then the second support act came on.
Even as they took to the stage I could see that this wasn't necessarily the greatest idea a promoter could have. Black skinny jeans, goth hair, biker jackets, hairspray, Dayrl Hannah's make up from Bladerunner. The Horrors (because that's who they were) seem like a reasonable bunch of guys, the usual mix of Bowie, art school and Penguin Classics made palatable by the fact that they do it with a certain style, humour and irony. Back in 'eigthies Birmingham, probably the last time I saw Satan worshippers this close up, Goth and Irony just didn't go in the same sentence. You can see their videos here and to be fair I find the more I hear them the more I like them. Vast swathes of the crowd, led I suspect by the casual throwbacks, spent the entire set chucking coins, beer, paper beer cups and pretty much anything else they could find at the band. They really didn't like them and booed loudly between songs. The Horrors remained undeterred (for which I admire them greatly) and engaged in some lively banter with the crowd. The Horror's singer Faris Badwan* between songs: "Boo. That's B-O-O isn't it. Add a K on the end and you might learn something." More rounds of beer and coins. Enough about them.
The stage and kit was reset behind a big billowing curtain and around 9.25pm the Arctic Monkeys came on to huge applause and pogoing down the front. I didn't last long down there and disappeared with my wife to stand by some huge speakers at the side where we could vaguely see. The sound had improved dramatically and I guess top bands stipulate with their record label and management that however good the support bands are that they have to have their sound mixed by a deaf blind man.
The crowd turned into a mass of sweaty bodies, waving hands clutching mobile phones as they recorded the gig for posterity. I loved the people who were recording or videoing the gig and would singalong with Alex Turner into their phone. YouTube's full of these. All the geeks I knew back in the 'eighties who used to record and bootleg live shows (Joy Division, New Order, Bowie, even the Au Pairs) made a habit of standing as still as possible so as not the mess with the Sony Professional recording Walkman they had in the folds of their trenchcoats. How things have changed.
The Arctic Monkey's success seems to be reflected in a better diet (they've put on a little weight and some muscle) and skin care regime (less spotty) but the music is as good as ever. Live the Arctic Monkeys are a high energy act with the crowd singing along to everything except the newest tunes.
*They all have stupid names: FARIS BADWAN, TOMETHY FURSE, JOSHUA THIRD, COFFIN JOE
and SPIDER WEBB