Review of the Arctic Monkeys concert in Prague

Thanks to the influx of foreign fans, Thursday’s concert by English indie rockers in Prague had the atmosphere of a football match. The organizers announced it was sold out long in advance. 19 thousand spectators came to the first Czech solo performance of Arctic Monkeys.

“You know how everyone gushes over Alex Turner? I think they should admire Matt Helders,” says a middle-aged fan, watching the band’s drummer intently as her husband laughs. Both come from the city of Carlisle near the borders of England and Scotland, they came to Prague for football, concerts, monuments and bars. Arctic Monkeys have a story for every song, they sing the lyrics word for word.

The quartet from Sheffield, England, became part of the island’s musical gene pool right after the release of their debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not in 2006, being talked about as the biggest British band since Oasis. It was now known in Prague.

Many Britons arrived in the area behind the Industrial Palace on the Exhibition Grounds, where the performance took place in the open air. They created the atmosphere that accompanies the performances of big groups on home soil. Men take off their shirts, climb on their friends’ shoulders and spread their arms, as if the notes pouring from the stage want to close to their chests. They treat concerts as a sports competition, they sing guitar riffs in chorus. This already happened in Prague during the second song Brianstorm.

Arctic Monkeys are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year. Singer Alex Turner was sixteen at the time, as were his teammates. Years later, a band emerged that vented youthful energy by pounding guitars and drums. They sang about parties, love and everything that comes with growing up. They played seemingly disoriented rock, looked like a bunch of hooligans from the north and were proud of their nonchalance.

The name of the line-up refers to the term northern monkeys, which the British use to honor “rough northerners”. A Carlisle couple in the audience prove that pride still resonates today.

If the debut sounded frackish, on their sixth and so far final album Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino from 2018 there is no trace of unrestrainedness. Turner composed the record on a Steinway Vertegrand piano, which he got in his thirties. By that time he was already living in Los Angeles, where he built the Lunar Surface studio, named after the theory about the fake landing of the Americans on the moon.

He conceived the recording as a soundtrack playing in the lobby of an imaginary hotel on the moon, the space theme reminiscent of David Bowie’s early work. Nervous have become rock aristocrats. In Prague, Arctic Monkeys now demonstrated both positions – and both worked.

The song Do I Wanna Know? by Arctic Monkeys has over 1.3 billion views on YouTube. Photo: Vojtěch Mervart | Video: Domino Records

Yorkshire conquered Prague

The passage through time also evoked a huge circle in the middle of the stage, which served as a projection surface. In the finale, the imaginary wormhole was replaced by a massive disco ball and turned the area into a dance floor. Considering Thursday’s temperatures, which reached 30 degrees, it didn’t cool down even after sunset.

Between songs, the band tosses around a miniature spray, probably an improvised water freshener. The drummer also moistens himself with it during songs. There is a smell of marijuana in the air, dust in the mouth. The feet of thousands of people turn the meadow into a suffocated prairie, perhaps that’s why the so-called stoner-rock riffs that the band recorded with Josh Homme, the frontman of Queens of the Stone Age, in the desert studio of Rancho De La Luna stand out the best. It was there that the AM recording from 2013 was created, which elevated Arctic Monkeys from a club formation to a stadium formation.

During the song Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High? Alex Turner puts down his guitar and plays the role of rock celadon with ease. He is wearing a casually unbuttoned shirt, black glasses in his breast pocket, which he occasionally puts on. He often turns his gaze away from the audience, minimizes his gestures to the music. For example, when before the encore he picks up a twelve-string Vox Starstream XII guitar, which makes the generous riff of the hit Do I Wanna Know? stand out.

The song Four Out Of Five, as Arctic Monkeys played it in Prague. Photo: Vojtěch Mervart | Video: Baskey

The most likable thing about Arctic Monkeys is the obviousness and carelessness with which they present one song after another. They are not interested in solos or player finesse, they build the atmosphere patiently. In the second half of the evening, the energy wanes a bit, but this only adds to the atmosphere of the prairie, in which the time is determined by lazy tempos, raw guitar melodies and lyrics about burning, unrequited love.

“Yorkshire, Yorkshire, Yorkshire!” shouts a group of fans at the end of the concert to remind the English county where the Sheffield musicians come from. Arctic Monkeys played a solid rock show in Prague. They took the audience on a journey through the history of British guitar music, which they were inspired by and quickly became a part of. At a time when even rockers routinely work with playback, this is not a small amount at all.


Arctic Monkeys
(Organized by the Charmenko CZ agency)
Exhibition grounds, Prague, August 18.

The article is in Czech

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