Arctic Monkeys at the Riviera Theatre Chicago

By Mark Guarino

Hey, hey, they’re the Arctic Monkeys. And they’re too busy singing to put their instruments down. So busy that the U.K. band wrapped up its sold-out show at the Riviera Tuesday in a scant 75 minutes, no encore. Yet this didn’t pose a problem. The Monkeys are strict economists and use every second to their advantage. In what would have been an opening set for any American jam band worth its patchouli, the Monkeys’ show packed enough highs and lows into a show perfectly timed to dazzle. For them, Tuesday’s show was designed like a marathon except dialed to breakneck speed.   

The band is on this tour to live up to the gooey hype the British press generated on its behalf early last year when its debut album became a best-seller and word of mouth put them on everyone’s lips. The excitement didn’t transfer so overwhelmingly to these shores. Now with a second album, “Favourite Worst Nightmare” (Domino), the band is back to settle that score and demonstrate they are more than an overnight sensation.   

Unlike many other trumped-up U.K. imports of recent years — Franz Ferdinand, Clinic, the Kaiser Chiefs — the Arctic Monkeys are not reliant on flash or, for that matter, much personality. They four-member band ignited excitement (and never-ending body surfing) strictly through their frantic songs. Hinged on choppy beats, dual guitar lines as sharp as barbed wire and similarly sharp time changes, the band stayed committed throughout, never relenting to playing the same trick twice.   

When the music served function more than form — especially true of songs from the first album — the Monkeys sounded mechanical. During these times their biggest asset became lead singer and guitarist Alex Turner who injected conversational inflection into his motor-rattling vocals. Looking like a Mod-era Pete Townshend, Turner funneled violent urges into the nuances of his songs by singing at a pace any rapper could appreciate.   

The band’s ever-relenting drive translated better live than it does on record. Songs like “Dancing Shoes” and “Still Take You Home” were co-opted by audience that adopted backing vocals, making the evening feel more like a rugby match.   

Despite the high energy, the Monkeys showed they were capable of sophistication. This came through the interplay between Turner and his fellow guitarist Jamie Cook. Often the two would start songs together but then, somewhere in the middle, Cook would add nice melodic flourishes to Turner’s penetrating rhythm. At one point, they faced each other and made the reliance on each other evident by trading riffs back and forth. Their meticulous interchange gave the music its high wire tension. Despite having accents of punk and ska, the music never followed the typical rules of each.   

The Monkeys finally arrived at its jam band moment on “A Certain Romance,” the last song of the night. Turner’s guitar solo swung through the middle as drummer Matt Helders drove the song hard straight to the end. They slowed as they progressed, finally stopping to take the first long pause of the night — before the last note of the night.

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