Arctic Monkeys @ Hollywood Bowl, September 25, 2011

Why aren’t the Arctic Monkeys bigger? Or are they just the right amount of big, as big as they could be and as big as they should be? Will this paper bag tear from the sheer weight of glass and alcohol in it before I get up to the Bowl? I’m thinking along the walk up Highland, cutting through the Iris premiere traffic milling around H&H, past still more Whitney ads, fucking loathsome Whitney ads–apparently still multiplying around town like carcinomas–these particular variants flyposters, all the more annoying for spitting those unfunny lines–i.e., WHOEVER INVENTED MORNING SEX FORGOT ABOUT MORNING BREATH–hilarious!–in 300-point sans serif right at eye level, onward past the Legion Hall, past the friendly scalping entrepreneurs, sidling past the sizzling sidewalk hot dogs, before, finally, reaching David Liebe Hart, the Bowl’s constant, their equivalent of the Walmart greeter, singing, unamplified, into a clenched fist, his puppet Doug the Dog, on his other fist.

Even though the eclectic five-act bill–Smith Westerns, Warpaint, Panda Bear, TV on the Radio, the aforementioned Arctics–feels like a mini-festival and something of a collective moment for Planet Indie (not to mention the Bowl programmers) and TVOTR will play last, the feel of the night, to me at least leans a bit toward an Arctic Monkeys show, the Bowl show they may never headline on their own, so I’ll ramble on a bit about them tonight.

Taking the stage some 70’s Hot Chocolate (“You Sexy Thing”–what else–as currently heard on that bizarre Swiffer commercial–YouTube it) the four clean cut lads admittedly look slight and not “rock” in that studied disheveled look like, say, the Strokes. Even with a leather jacket and new penchant for a slicked back Joe Strummer quaff, main Monkey Alex Turner really just comes across more sensible than menacing. Bands often feel the need to rise to the Bowl occasion by bringing in extras–strings, horns, additional players, whatever. The Arctics will go it tonight with just the classic guitar, bass and drums set up. Suck it and see, Bowl.

Their began, as usual, with a mellower tune (“She’s Thunderstorms”, this time) that goes straight into a proper hello with the bombast of “Brianstorm”. The 17-song set tonight was more or less by the numbers for them, familiar tunes taken evenly from their four records, apart from Humbug, which seems to be getting short shrift live these days. They hit some moments of a bit extra oomph here and there but they were really just as good as they always are. They may have been understandably a little tired with the Bowl show their third in three nights, hopscotching from Vegas to San Diego before finally making it to Hollywood. Their songs are just too restless to be boring, ever. Even when they aren’t firing on all cylinders, the quirky structures will at least pull you along for a fun ride. In such a big venue all the negative in many of these songs really come across; often it’s just one voice and a riff. Not a lot of bands have this confidence to not want to fill every moment with showers of noise.

It’s hard to slot them in the contemporary spectrum of rock alongside their American equivalents; they’re a sackful of contradictions and contradictions don’t often play well beyond cult followers. But contractions are also why they’re often compelling. The lyrics are alternately eloquent and nonsensical, tender and rude, witty and silly. They can do 60s jangle and 70s riff, raise a holy hell of noise and then get sparse and quiet, and Alex can sing and rap. Their earlier records were lyrically dense; the newest one is called ‘Suck It And See’, and has some of their most simple lyrics to date, almost as if they are purposely dialing down the wit to boil things down to something easy and provocative, something that you’d think would catch on here in the colonies. So, while it’s tempting to say they’re too English or too clever or too this or too that for American mass appeal, of course it’s not that simple. Let’s see how well Whitney does and then we’ll come back to this thought on the tastes of the broader Stateside audience.