In WSUM’s first piece of Summerfest 2014 coverage, Matt Cortner reports on the Arctic Monkeys.
When I saw that the Arctic Monkeys had been announced as headliners at this year’s Summerfest, I was elated for a couple reasons: 1) I needed to complete the Queens of the Stone Age/Arctic Monkeys set and 2) I thought I might be able to get close and avoid a crowd of teens and pre-teens. It turns out I should have only been excited about one of those two things.
For the uninitiated out there, the Queens of the Stone Age and the Arctic Monkeys should really be thought of as a set. While they came from different backgrounds (Queens from California’s Palm Desert; Monkeys from Sheffield, England), the bands’ trajectories have become intertwined. Last year saw both bands release year-end-list great records, with the frontmen Josh Homme (Queens) and Alex Turner (Monkeys) each contributing to the other’s record. Josh, who is also good friends with Alex, even co-produced the Arctic Monkey’s 2013 album, AM.
After seeing the Queens perform selections from last year’s …Like Clockwork earlier this year (in Milwaukee, no less), it seemed fitting to see the Arctic Monkeys do the same, and complete the set.
The Arctic Monkeys were headlining the Miller Lite Oasis (apparently stages are named like ballparks now) on Wednesday, June 25th, but as my friends were also fellow collectors, we made the mid-week trek to Milwaukee.
Summerfest has always been a bit of a trip for me. Upon entering, you are beset by sights, sounds, and smells and surrounded by swaths of people. As a graduate student who rarely interacts with anyone younger than a college freshman, I am always amazed by the sheer number of people in the world who are younger than 18. Summerfest seems to act as a beacon and holding cell for all of them. A friend from Milwaukee once told me that the high school ritual is to arrive at the Summerfest grounds as the gates open and only leave once they force you out. Apparently it’s the best way to spend a summer’s day and see a lot of lower-tier musical acts.
The previous observation should have foreshadowed what was to come, but I was convinced that the Arctic Monkeys were too “old” for these kids and that we would be assured good spots in the crowd. When we arrived at the Oasis to find a jam-packed venue, we were convinced that it was because of the band just starting to tune up, not because of the Arctic Monkeys. When the band then began to play a vague mish-mash of emo and ska, we convinced ourselves of this and wandered away to find some beer and people-watch.
This move was a grave mistake.
After debating mini-doughnuts, watching some BMX, and some general wandering, we returned to the Oasis to find it even more packed than before. We thought that the crowd would thin as the previous band wound down, but this also proved false. We made our way as deep into the crowd as we could and made our peace.
After a few more refreshments and joined by reinforcements, the band stepped on stage.
The band immediately launched into AM‘s biggest hit, “Do I Wanna Know?” followed by two of the album’s best songs “Snap Out of It” and “Arabella” (the latter featuring a sweet “War Pigs” reference). For the rest of the 17 song set, the band worked through a combination of their old classics and material from AM. Even from the edge of the crowd, the show was great. The Arctic Monkeys’ music translates well to large venues, coupling punchy (and often punky) rock with slinky dance vibes, allowing for a large number of people to dance and rock out. We were barely able to see the band on stage, but the music and great camera work made sure we enjoyed the show and missed as little as possible. Highlighting moments of action, the camera moved between each band member so deftly that I thought they may have been filming a concert film. I’ve never felt so close to a band with so many young people in between me and the stage.
Stand out tracks, besides the first three, included “Knee Socks”, “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?”, and “I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor”, the latter of which really got the crowd fired up and brought to a state of near-mosh (at least in my general vicinity). After drawing the main set to a close with sharp renditions of “Flourescent Adolescent” and “505”, followed by a brief encore break, the band came back with the good stuff.
The three song encore showed that the band knew what the audience wanted, ripping through another three tracks off of AM, “One for the Road”, “I Wanna be Yours”, and the killer “R U Mine?”. After laying waste to the Summerfest stage, the band departed to copious cheers and applause.
Fighting through the sea of young’uns couldn’t even diminish the enjoyment of the concluded concert. A smaller venue may have offered slightly better sound quality and lines-of-sight, but wouldn’t have improved the experience much beyond offering quicker exit routes. I don’t think much can top the experience of seeing Queens of the Stone Age at the top of their game (in a theater), but seeing their counterparts at Summerfest is definitely close.
– Matt Cortner