Live Review: Arctic Monkeys with Sleepy Sun at Ram’s Head Live!, Baltimore – 7th April 2010

By on Tuesday, 13th April 2010 at 2:00 pm

Apologies in advance, but we have no live pictures from this show because cameras were not allowed.

There are a few bands that I will put up with just about anything for, and Arctic Monkeys is one of them. So last Wednesday I braved the rush-hour traffic between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore to go to their sold out gig at Rams Head Live!, one of my least favorite venues. The 3-level venue is a weird shape, and the shape and placement of the balconies is inexplicable – it’s almost impossible to get an unobstructed sight line from anywhere on the balconies, because they stick out in strange places and at weird angles. But even that couldn’t make the show any less fantastic.

I knew nothing about the opener, San Francisco band Sleepy Sun, before the gig, but I was blown away. They mixed so many genres together that it’s difficult for me to even describe their sound. The biography on their website describes their sound as “dead blues shaken alive, razor sharp and ramblin’, soul, sonic science and dead-on pop surgery. Wooden, earthy, stratospheric, and swinging…California music of beautiful contrasts for conflicted times,” and that sounds pretty spot-on to me. The 6 band members, on electric and acoustic guitars, drums,  bass and tambourine, came on stage to the sounds of classical music looking incredibly retro. Take the male lead singer, for example – with ’70s inspired clothes, long hair and a moustache, he reminded me of a pre-“Only By the Night” Caleb Followill. And to go along with that, he had a raw, raspy edge to his voice that was incredibly compelling , especially during the song “Sleepy Son,” for which he also played harmonica.  He split vocal duties with the only woman  in the band, who also had a great voice. Although their voices were great separately, they worked fantastically well together.

Throughout songs like “New Age” and the sexy “Red/Black,” as well as new track “Horses,” which they introduced as “the freshest shit we have,” there was an incredible intensity and power to their performance. They were so into it, it almost seemed at times like they didn’t remember the audience was there. Their songs were long and complicated, with varying tempos, and they were absolutely captivating. The only negative thing that I can say about Sleepy Sun is that the intensity of their live show isn’t quite captured in their studio recordings.

As impressive as Sleepy Sun were, everyone was really there to see Arctic Monkeys, and they didn’t disappoint. They are a band that lets the music speak for itself. They barely moved around the stage at all, but it didn’t make the performance boring because they channeled all of that energy into the songs, playing them so powerfully and flawlessly that you couldn’t care about anything other than singing and dancing along.  Having been to an Arctic Monkeys gig before, I knew not to stand on the floor if I wanted to be comfortable, so looking down from the balcony I could see at least 10 people get pulled out of the crowd throughout the night for crowd-surfing.

Though they’ve had months to get used to the songs from ‘Humbug’, the crowd still seemed to react more to old favorites like ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’ than to newer songs. It’s a testament to how much the band completely owns every song that they still had the crowd going wild with the new mid-tempo song ‘Joining the Dots’ and with their cover of Nick Cave’s ‘Red Right Hand.’ There’s a definite “Arctic Monkeys Sound,” but that doesn’t mean that all their songs sounded the same. In every song there was a least one thing that made it really special. Matt Helders’ drumming in opening song ‘Dance Little Liar’ was absolutely mindblowing, and the way they managed to stay in perfect time with each other during the wonky, chugging breakdown of ‘Potion Approaching’ was very impressive. Another great moment was when lead singer Alex Turner said they were going to “turn the temperature down” before launching into ‘Cornerstone,’ and lighters were up and waving within seconds. But the moment of the night that couldn’t be topped was during ‘505,’ when the entire crowd shouted “but I crumble completely when you cry” at the same time. It’s a rare and beautiful thing to be at a concert where the entire crowd is so completely immersed in the music.

Even after 17 songs, it still seemed to early when they left the stage for the first time. When they came back on they played ‘Fluorescent Adolescent,’ and the crowd rather impressively sang along with Alex’s rapid-fire vocals. Their choice to end on the b-side ‘Nettles’ at first seemed like a very strange choice, as it’s got a stuttering and stalling rhythm that makes it hard to dance to and nobody knows the words to sing along. But it’s one of their loudest, most thrashing songs, and they played the hell out of it, so it turned out to be the perfect ending. Acting every bit the rock star that he is,  Alex walked off the stage with his guitar in the middle of the song and kept playing from the wings, and then tossed the guitar back onto the stage at the end, leaving the crowd dazed and delighted. A fitting end to an amazing show.

After the cut: Arctic Monkeys Set List

Arctic Monkeys Set List:

Dance Little Liar
This House is a Circus
Still Take You Home
Potion Approaching
Joining the Dots (new song)
My Propeller
Crying Lightning
The View from the Afternoon
I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor
Fire and the Thud
Do Me A Favour
Pretty Visitors
Red Right Hand (Nick Cave Cover)
If You Were There, Beware
Fluorescent Adolescent

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