w/ Fontaines DC
Ascend Amphitheater; Nashville, TN
September 13, 2023
It’s been more than 20 years since indie rockers Arctic Monkeys first formed in their native Sheffield, England, and 17 since their now-classic debut Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, skyrocketed the band to international fame amidst the garage rock and post-punk revival of the 2000s. A series of beloved, adventurous albums, critical acclaim, and a fervent fanbase would follow across a prolific run throughout the late ’00s to early ’10s, and by fifth album AM, which arrived almost exactly a decade ago, Arctic Monkeys had cemented their status as one of the modern greats. The 10 years since have been a little more slow-going, with AM followup Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino arriving a full five years later, in 2018, and the band’s most recent, The Car, last year. And though they’ve been to Nashville on tour for each of those recent releases, the last few have been five years apart- in 2013, at Marathon Music Works, in 2018 at Ascend Amphitheater, and most recently, a return to Ascend Amphitheater, this time for two nights of shows! After jealously poring over their setlist for night one (and hearing how great it was from friends and other members of team), we caught the band’s second show with Fontaines D.C.– a spectacular, career-spanning, endlessly cool affair; read on for our review and photos!
Ascend was already packed as a I arrived and took my seat just before Fontaines D.C. went on- no surprise, as I’m well-aware how diehard Arctic Monkeys’ fanbase is, and popular they’ve stayed all these years. I was a little surprised at how young the crowd looked (to this 30-something millennial, the band will always be a soundtrack to 2000s teen years), but I love that they’ve stayed current and continued to attract new generations of fans in this era where indie rock’s broader influence has waned (and of course I spied plenty of people older than myself as well; Arctic Monkeys’ style perfectly bridges aesthetics of rock’s past and present). From casual to indie rock cool to dressy (as the band would later appear), it was truly an eclectic crowd, and all of the knee socks present were a perfect nod to the song of the same name from AM, performed later that evening.
I’d been wanting to see Fontaines D.C. for awhile now- I’m a huge post-punk fan and their three records have all been phenomenal- but didn’t get the chance to catch their headlining show last year at Brooklyn Bowl. They’re an inspired choice as openers for this run, complimentary but distinct from the evening’s headliners, and from the moment they stepped on stage, they were mesmerizing. Set in front of a simple, gigantic red backdrop with their name on it, the band’s production was straightforward and low-key, letting the songs speak for themselves, and with tracks like the propulsive “Lucid Dream,” the hypnotic “Roman Holiday,” punk-spirited “Boys in the Better Land,” or vibey hit “Jackie Down the Line” all making for a really well-rounded and impressive performance, from a confident and magnetic band. I absolutely loved their set, and it kicked the show off on a high note, leaving me desperately wanting to catch a full Fontaines D.C. show soon.
The place was already full for Fontaines, but as I grabbed a drink during the changeover, I noticed it was absolutely brimming for Arctic Monkeys, with one of the most packed and enthusiastic lawns at Ascend I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t long until the band took the stage, opening with dynamic newer tune “Sculptures of Anything Goes,” an immediate tip-off that this would, in fact, be a slightly different show from the night before (which began with fan-favorite “Do I Wanna Know?”)- a welcome move, as there were likely many repeat attendees. The band have always been famously cool, but they appeared even dressier and more dapper than the last time I saw them live, a number of years ago, and their stage looked really spectacular, both in its production- a giant, illuminated circular screen and lighting array and blocks of cool and dynamic stage lights- and in all of the instruments that it was adored with, many visibly vintage. Kicking straight from the more subdued opening track into propulsive early hit “Brianstorm,” the crowd erupted into dancing and singing along, and that vibe and energy and adoration would carry though the whole remarkable performance.
“Do you remember when you used to be a rascal? Do ya?,” frontman Alex Turner asked at one point, referencing lyrics from “Florescent Adolescent,” and showing some levity in his banter between the band’s earnest renditions of songs from every single album in their discography (he’d later also jokingly remark that newer tune “There’d Better Be a Mirrorball” was “as close to country as we come”). I’ve always been impressed by how good Arctic Monkeys were live, even 15 or so years ago when I first saw them, but two decades in, they perform now with the refinement and polish and road-worn confidence of indie rock legends, with the core group and their talented backing players all meticulously bringing their show to life in pitch-perfect fashion, while retaining an air of electricity and freshness and theatricality. Turner is, of course, the focal point and a beloved frontman, but the band absolutely feel like one cohesive, impressive unit, and they’re as tight and impressive as they’ve ever been.
Despite the different start, the shape of the show wasn’t super different from the prior night, from catchy favorites like “Snap Out of It,” classics of 2000s indie like “Teddy Picker,” sing-along primed bangers like “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” and the aforementioned “Knee Socks,” propulsive and high-energy cuts like “The View from the Afternoon,” plus a really vibey section toward the end where a disco ball dropped from the ceiling and cast the stage in shimmering light as the band played “505,” before launching into night one’s opener “Do I Wanna Know?,” all made an appearance in both. There were some differences too though, like chill and introspective tune “Cornerstone,” crooning ballad “The Ultracheese,” and, perhaps most notably, less-often played “Suck It and See” to kick off the encore. Similar enough to feel like the full experience of a typical show on this tour, but slightly tweaked enough to reward fans who opted to catch both of these performances.
From their impressive instrumentation, switching off instruments (Turner himself rotated between guitar, piano, and vocals alone) and filling the amphitheater with a lush wall of sound, to the spectacular and tasteful production (I particularly loved that giant, glowing circular screen which alternated between live feed and visuals), to their electrifying and unrivaled stage presence, to the theatricality they’ve incredibly adopted in recent years, to the viral attention and contemporary relevance they still command, this show was a reminder of why Arctic Monkeys are one of the greatest bands in indie rock, and one of the most enduring and preeminent rock acts of the 2000s. Given the hugely enthusiastic response throughout, it was clear the audience was just as mesmerized by the performance as I was, and I’m sure we all left hoping it won’t be another five years until we get a chance to see this fantastic band in Music City again.
Sculptures of Anything Goes
Snap Out of It
Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?
The View From the Afternoon
There’d Better Be a Mirrorball
Do I Wanna Know?
Suck It and See
I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor
R U Mine?