So, NBC persists on saying “Scott McDonald of Eight24.com” even though they are well aware that this blog gets updated about as much as a hermit without a computer living at the North Pole. BUT, as I hate to have anyone come here and see the same exact posts they’ve seen the last 14 times they visited, I will attempt to post a few new things. And that starts with this — one of the pics I shot at the Lorde/Majical Cloudz show at SDSU’s Cal Coast Credit Union Theatre last Friday. I will try to post more (including a few of Lorde) very soon.
While perhaps both Arctic Monkeys and TV on the Radio have moved past their honeymoon phases, the two bands have done nothing but improve since they both formed in the early 2000s.
And while TV on the Radio have recently been in San Diego for a gig at 4th & B, I didn’t want to miss the chance to see both of these exceptional live bands on the same evening. SDSU’s Open Air Theatre, despite a gaping construction chasm surrounding it, provided a perfect venue for the two groups on Saturday’s cool September evening.
Unfortunately, only a fraction of the venue was filled when the buzz-band/show opener Smith Westerns took the stage promptly at 7 p.m. The barely-out-of-high-school Chicago indie rockers made the most of their short set, playing spirited versions of tracks from both their 2009 self-titled debut and their January Fat Possum release, Dye It Blonde. Everything I had previously heard from the hot-s— blog darlings had led me to believe that they were just another overhyped, derivative bunch of snot-nosed neophytes whose parents had a kick-ass ’70s-rock record collection. But in the live setting, it was much easier to tell what, at least some, of the hype was all about. The brothers-fronted rockers wear their T.Rex/Marc Bolan worship on their sleeves, but do it so unabashedly that it’s impossible to deny the infectiousness of it all.
When the lights came up and the stage was getting prepped for Arctic Monkeys, it was apparent that the show was not sold out. A surprise, at least in my mind, for sure — and it wasn’t for a lack of last-minute, trying, as whoever was choosing the house music had the golden touch. I had to believe that the eclectic sounds of UFO’s “Evil,” Captain Beefheart’s “Where There’s a Woman,” Elvis Costello’s “Lipstick Vogue” and Harry Nilson’s “Me and My Arrow” had to have attracted a few passers-by as they wafted over the bustling college campus.
The venue did swell to the most filled it would be all night as the Sheffield quartet Arctic Monkeys took to the stage. Lead singer and songwriter Alex Turner, looking equal parts S.E. Hinton protagonist and Brando’s Johnny Strabler from The Wild One, was all business from the get-go. He led the band through tracks from all four of the band’s full-lengths, including a few from the recently released Suck It and See, all with little or no banter. When he did speak, it was general niceties served up with brevity, such as, “Thank you very much,” or, “It really is great to be here San Diego.” It kept the focus on the music, and Arctic Monkeys are an accomplished live act. Never falling prey to things like cool-kid counterparts the Strokes’ pre-show partying, the U.K. wunderkinds never show a sloppy disrespect for the audience and are spot-on each and every performance.
Drummer Matt Helders hits with Bonham-esque force, and the rest of the lads fall in line. The highlight was set-closer and perennial favorite “When the Sun Goes Down,” with Turner pausing long enough between the song’s one-strum intro and its hard-hitting jump for the already frenzied crowd to give the biggest ovation of the evening. And even though they didn’t get it, the crowd chanted “ONE. MORE. SONG!” for awhile once the band had left the stage.
The unknown music selector again kept things lively as the expansive set design for TV on the Radio went up, but I was amazed to see a good chunk of fans leave after the Monkeys were gone. I know the majority of the young crowd was college-age, but there is simply no excuse for leaving before such an engaging act. Regardless, there was still a healthy throng of folks ready to welcome the Brooklyn sextet when they came onstage. Playing in front of what seemed like a giant backdrop of stars, the band ripped through a career-spanning set of tunes from all four of their records and a few EP cuts. I couldn’t help but think of their late bassist Gerard Smith, who died in April, as the band pounded out a workmanlike set, spending less time chatting than even the concise Turner. They were all seemingly lost in the music.
As always, frontman Tunde Adebimpe was drenched in sweat within the first 10 minutes, and the interplay/harmonies between him and guitarist Kyp Malone was one of the strongest points of their hour-plus set. While critics have heralded their latest releases, 2008’s Dear Science, and this year’s Nine Types of Light, my favorites of the night were taken from earlier albums. Their version of “Staring at the Sun,” from the band’s debut, was particularly feisty and engaging, while “Young Liars,” from the band’s EP of the same name, was the night’s definitive moment — the song’s wall of guitar and Adebimpe’s wild howls at the moon crashed together with relentless perfection.
Despite the lack of a capacity crowd, the chatter as everyone filed out was overwhelmingly positive. I think the whole evening could be summed up by a young woman walking out hand-in-hand with whom I can only assume was her boyfriend: “Oh, my God, honey, that was totally fucking awesome.”
First published by NBC San Diego on September 29, 2011
ALSO CHECK OUT MY PHOTO GALLERY FROM THE SHOW.
Sheffield rock quartet Arctic Monkeys haven’t known much struggle in their time together. The first demos the school chums put together became an Internet sensation in their native England and beyond, and by the time they released their debut, 2006’s Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, their popularity was only rivaled by their hype. Fortunately, that album was a snarling collection of well-written, infectious tunes, punctuated by half-witty, half-sardonic lyrics, that both showed a distinct maturity beyond young men freshly in their 20s, and helped to validate much, if not all, of the hype.
The record became the fastest selling debut in UK history and won the Mercury Prize that year. In the five years since, the band has released three more albums, toured the world and continued to grow in popularity. Their latest offering, Suck It and See, was released in June and is quite a departure from 2009’s Humbug, a release they recorded with Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme at his Joshua Tree Studio. Suck It was recorded with producer and longtime collaborator/friend James Ford in Los Angeles and features drummer Matt Helders’ first shot at lead vocals on the track “Brick By Brick.”
I recently spoke with Helders, who was at Santa Monica Beach, where the band was “just having a couple of relaxing days off before the tour starts” — a tour that the Monkeys are sharing with indie powerhouse TV on the Radio. They’ll be making a stop at SDSU’s Open Air Theatre on Saturday night.
Scott McDonald: The new album is quite a bit different than your last.
Matt Helders: I think it’s always been a conscious decision of ours to always move on and do something new. I think it’s also something we all find exciting about making a record as well: doing something we didn’t do last time. And one leads to the other. I don’t think we’ll ever say, “Well, let’s go back to what we’ve already tried.”
SM: The change seems more noticeable this time.
MH: Humbug was more about going in and doing something with someone new and we’ve never worked with before. But I think the songwriting has changed as well, and that’s contributing to a different sound overall.
SM: How much did James have to do with that?
MH: We feel comfortable with James, and we’ve always worked with him — in one way or another — but this is the first record where he did the whole thing. He’s confident and talented, and can play a lot of instruments, and we felt really good about him getting involved in all of the ways he did.
SM: How was your first foray into lead vocals?
MH: I definitely enjoyed it — and I do have a taste for it. It was a lot fun, and I’ve always enjoyed when I do the backing vocals. I really like singing in studio as well — when you get it right. I’m certainly open to the possibility of more of it and singing on other projects. I’m sure I’ll get around to it eventually.
SM: Was it strange that you guys were well known before you even released an album?
MH: Well, I suppose that’s true in some places. But I think it all depends on where we are. It’s certainly different here than it is in England. We still have a lot of work to do here. I mean, we’ve always been at a level where we could come here and have fun, not worry too much, have a good tour and do some shows that were sold out. And I guess that seems somewhat successful, given all of it. But in America, we have plenty more to do.
SM: You guys have packed a lot into just five years.
MH: I think we all know that we’ve done quite a lot within the five years since our first record — and by the time we’re all 25. It’s quite a special thing, I think. But it is what it is. We’re not all that far into our career, really. But it’s definitely a good start, and we’re getting more comfortable as we go along doing what we do. We’re getting a lot more used to it. It may seem like it’s been a long time since the first record came out, but it really isn’t. And these five years have gone by quick.
SM: But you’ve known each other for a lot longer than that.
MH: We all grew up together. It’s a bit strange, but I think that’s just the kind of relationship we have with each other. It’s more than just the music, and that helps with everything. We have a lot more to talk about than just the band.
SM: You’re on tour with TV on the Radio. How can you write when you have them to watch every night?
MH: [laughs] This time, we’re just doing the tour. We’ve done it before where we write songs while we’re still on the road, but we’re just going to ride this one out. After that, when it’s all done, we’ll regroup and decide about the next bit.