It’s a surreal time to be living in Sheffield at the moment. For the last few years, the local music scene has known all about Arctic Monkeys – they gigged incessantly in the region’s pubs, they gave away free demo versions of songs on their website and slowly but surely built up a reputation as one of the city’s best new bands.
But nobody prepared us for this. It’s come from nowhere. Arctic Monkeys have suddenly become big – really, really big. There’s been ludicrous claims (“they’re the new Libertines” – they’re not, they’re much better, and “they’ll be bigger than The Beatles” – they won’t, but who ever will be), their singles get A list playlist status on Radio 1, and even the local Top Shop could be heard playing them this afternoon.
There’s a horrible feeling that all this hype could kill them, but if there’s one band who appear to be able to handle it, it’s the Monkeys. There’s a feeling around Sheffield that we know they’re going to make it and the sense of pride was palpable at The Plug tonight – football style chants of “Sheffield” and “Yorkshire” rang round the venue after local lads Milburn had played a superbly sharp set.
Eventually, after a seemingly endless wait, the lights went down and a roar almost louder than that in a Liverpool pub during the Champions League victory in May exploded. In a breathtaking act of confidence, the Monkeys open with future number one single I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor, and then follow it up with early single Fake Tales Of San Francisco. It’s almost as if they’re daring themselves – follow that.
Both the two singles sound fantastic of course – the years of countless gigging have paid off and the band sound incredibly tight. The Plug’s excellent sound system means that Alex Turner’s wonderfully droll lyrics aren’t muffled at all – Fake Tales is both laugh out loud funny and impressively vicious, with “you’re not from New York City, you’re from Rotherham” quickly becoming the most quotable line of the year.
What’s so impressive about tonight’s gig is the fact that every single person crammed into The Plug knows every single word of every single song – songs that have only ever been released as demo versions on the internet. The entire crowd sing the first verse of Scummy en masse, leaving Turner and bass player Andy Nicholson sharing a slightly disbelieving look. Rather than a band who’ve only released one official single six days before this gig, they provoke the reaction of a veteran band performing their greatest hits.
There’s no sense of bandwagon jumping either – the fact that this is the boys’ local, homecoming gig means that it’s filled with genuine fans – there’s not one person here trying to look cool by catching ‘the next big thing’. The amount of devotion at this stage of a band’s career is quite awe-inspiring to witness.
All this adulation could go to some band’s heads, but thankfully the Monkeys just seem rather non-plussed by it all and incredibly down to earth. Alex makes a point of thanking “everyone who was there at the beginning” and even asks the crowd’s opinion after the debut of a brand new song, Leave Before The Lights Come On. Needless to say, it received a rapturous reception.
Other highlights included the anthemic Mardy Bum, which had everyone swaying and singing in unison, the blisteringly good From The Ritz To The Rubble, and the superbly cutting attack on the “Top Shop princesses” of Still Take You Home (“you’re spending all of your money, on trendy haircuts that you read were cool…I’m struggling to see through your fake tan”). Although there was no Bigger Boys And Stolen Sweethearts tonight, the epic performance of Vampires Is A Bit Strong But more than made up for it.
The set closed with A Certain Romance, a song that already feels like a Monkeys classic (and how ironic does the “there’s only music so that there’s new ringtones” line sound now that I Bet You Look Good…is one of the nation’s top selling ringtones?), and the euphoria and exhilaration of the crowd was incredible. “We’ve witnessed history” one man screamed to his friend on the way out. Under normal circumstances, you’d think that was way over the top, but tonight, it was impossible to argue with.