The Alex Turner-led, Sheffield-hailing rock quartet are famous not just for the hits that made them huge and six #1-charting albums (plus their latest that peaked at #2), but also their attitude towards their industry and bravado of their frontman. They have equally made waves in recent years as they moved away from the raucous, hook-laden indie anthems they cut their teeth with and moved towards a more offbeat, experimental and piano-driven sound, first with 2018’s critically acclaimed Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino and last year’s follow-up: The Car.
Arctic Monkeys @ Glastonbury Festival 2023
Announcing a third Pyramid Stage headline turn at the 2023 edition seemed a no-brainer following well-received sets at their 2007 debut and 2013 follow-up. But this year’s show proved, if anything, to be divisive. Bringing their current stadium tour to Worthy Farm, following a few cancelled shows in the proceeding week owing to Turner suffering from Laryngitis, it was touch and go whether or not they would be able to play at all, Emily Eavis claiming to have a couple of backup plans in her back pocket just in case! But play they did. And some in attendance might rather have wished they hadn’t bothered.
Their set might have been career-spanning, touching on each of their seven LPs, but leaned heavily on 2013’s AM and, understandably, last year’s The Car. Sure, some of their more raucous hits were sprinkled atop the otherwise calm and collected ’70s lounge show of a headline performance, but it was just that, a sprinkling.
Turner and co. brought a good amount of their stadium production, giant mirrorball emblazoned with the group’s name included. But all dressed in suits and shades, this was a decidedly downbeat, chill affair. Turner himself, barely engaged with the crowd infront of him, let alone those poor sods stood up on the hill at the back of the massive field, just before masses of pitched tents begin. For some tunes, the frontman was tucked behind an upright piano at the rear of the stage, he even played a piano interlude for crying out loud! (Hint, one man and a piano can mesmerise for a two solid hours, just sayin’).
This might well be the expectation of an Arctic Monkeys show these days, but it is certainly not what is expected at any music festival where folks of diverse musical tastes are drawn to the various stages to experience both music they know well and that still to be discovered performed with vigour. And closing the main stages, to experience a spectacle if you will. No, a star-studded affair with special guests isn’t always what will keep a crowd engaged. But the show itself needs to enchant even the casual fan at an event such as a Glastonbury Festival, Pyramid Stage headline set.
I’ll confess, I’ve tried to listen to Arctic Monkeys music beyond I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor and Mardy Bum, and I couldn’t figure out where the multiple Mercury Prize nominations came from. And that’s fine, this music is probably just not for me. But when I heard repeatedly, while wondering the festival for the following two days, how so many had felt the same, that this was simply a rather dull and boring show, I felt vindicated in my initial response to the set, which I watched in full from the very front of the Pyramid Field, unable to escape the thousands of people gathered there.
Words and photos by Kalpesh Patel at Glastonbury Festival 2023.