It might seem a bit daft, but there is a good reason for me to travel all the way to another country to see a band from the UK – the main theatre at Berlin’s Admiralspalast is pretty sizeable, but at less than 2000 capacity it’s a relatively intimate venue for Arctic Monkeys these days (unsurprisingly, the show is sold out). Warming the crowd up is Alex Turner’s old buddy Miles Kane, who rattles through a number of tracks from his debut solo record, Colour Of The Trap. Kane is an energetic performer and his set goes from strength to strength – he’s clearly winning the crowd over even before an excellent closing trio of tracks. First there’s the taut, moody ‘Come Closer’, then a vibrant cover of The Beatles’ ‘Hey Bulldog’, before he closes out his set with the frantic, frazzled guitar of ‘Inhaler’.
When Arctic Monkeys take to the stage about half an hour later, they don’t waste any time turning the tempo up, setting the pace with Suck It And See‘s most rapid-fire track, ‘Library Pictures’ before rolling into ‘Brianstorm’ to whip up even more of a frenzy. ‘This House Is A Circus’ (“berzerk as fuck”) is an apt follow up, and ‘Still Take You Home’ provides the first real throwback moment, both musically and in terms of crowd reaction (hint: they go mental for it).
At this point, the band have the audience in the palm of their hand, even before Alex attempts to sing “Don’t sit down ’cause I’ve moved your chair” in German – I’m not sure how accurate his translation was, but the crowd appreciate it nonetheless. Following up that track by playing ‘Pretty Visitors’ from Humbug might seem a tad self-indulgent, but the track’s pace keeps the set moving before we land firmly back in ‘hits’ territory with ‘Teddy Picker’, ‘Crying Lightning’, and ‘Brick By Brick’.
The hit parade is followed by a melodic interlude of the kind that Suck It And See might have hinted at, with the beautiful ‘Reckless Serenade’ is followed by Humbug highlight ‘Cornerstone’ – both apt demonstrations of how Turner’s lyricism has only grown in potency over his career. Of course, it was pretty damn good to begin with – a fact that’s re-affirmed as the band blast through the one-two punch of ‘The View From The Afternoon’ and ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ without batting an eyelid.
It’s surprising how well the songs from Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not actually hold up in the live arena – helped, no doubt, by the fact that these very English-centric songs have transcended barriers of nation and language to be taken into the hearts of fans all over the world. There’s a palpable excitement every time Turner mentions that they’re going to play “an old one”, and the audience seem to know all the words. Their dedication is such that halfway through the gig, someone passes up a banner to the stage that simply says “Helders = God” – and with his propulsive drumming driving songs as intense as ‘Pretty Visitors’ and the utterly brilliant ‘Do Me A Favour’ (still probably my favourite Arctic Monkeys song), it’s difficult to argue otherwise.
That latter song is placed halfway through an excellently-paced five song sequence that ends the band’s main set – stepping up the tempo set by the sultry ‘All My Own Stunts’ and subtly menacing Favourite Worst Nightmare number ‘If You Were There, Beware’. After ‘Do Me A Favour’ comes the euphoric release of ‘That’s Where You’re Wrong’ before the band offer the audience one last ‘old one’ with the classic ‘When The Sun Goes Down’.
Of course, they’re back for an encore, beginning by playing shimmering Suck It And See highlight ‘The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala’ before breaking out another fan favourite in the form of ‘Florescent Adolescent’. Alex then invites Miles Kane back to the stage to play the stunning, heartbreaking ‘505’ – forget ‘A Certain Romance’, this is absolutely the most potent set-closer that the band have in their arsenal, and a wonderful way to end the evening.
Looking back over the setlist, it’s clear that the band wanted to put on a crowd-pleasing show during this tour. And yet, it doesn’t feel at all like a compromise – indeed, they play a roughly even split of old and new material. It feels like they’re giving the people what they want without losing any sense of integrity, and it’s just another step in the band’s amazing career so far. Tonight was the first time I’d seen the band play live in about four years – and also the first time I realised how much I’d missed seeing them. It’s not quite the same as accidentally coming across them at a gig in Sheffield, or the sweaty, intimate shows that followed in the summer of 2005 – but it’s fantastic that they’ve managed to come this far, and it’s still an absolute pleasure to see them play.