Festival headliners don’t come more reliable and no-nonsense than Arctic Monkeys. Fresh from last weekend’s Reading Festival, in England, Alex Turner and his bandmates end Electric Picnic 2022 with a bone-rattling set that almost makes it possible to ignore a sudden, rather apocalyptic downpour. They’re loud and a bit grumpy, and they close the festival with a crunch — albeit a damp one.
Electric Picnic also finds Arctic Monkeys pressing reset slightly. Their experimental 2018 album, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, divided fans. Some applauded Turner’s willingnesses to take a more esoteric direction. Others lamented his veer into ersatz David Bowie and Scott Walker pastiche.
It isn’t unthinkable that Turner has come around to that latter viewpoint. Just two Tranquility tracks feature tonight. There is also a cut from their forthcoming seventh studio album, The Car, which receives a flat welcome, arriving as it does mid-deluge.
Rather than forge ahead, Arctic Monkeys circle around an extended victory lap. Teddy Picker and Potion Approaching are flinty bangers that confirm Turner, who’s now 36, as the grumpy uncle in the landfill-indie scene of the mid-2000s, when lesser guitar bands borrowed heavily from better musicians of the 1980s and 1990s. But Turner always stood apart, his songs blending killer riffs with dark Sheffield wit. (On stage he is taciturn, his interactions confined to perfunctory mumbles.)
Those qualities are front and centre on the final night of Electric Picnic 2022. With the rain swirling, they open with Do I Wanna Know and romp through Cornerstone and I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor, the belter with which they introduced themselves to the world 16 years ago.
Early in their career The Arctic Monkeys were heralded as leaders of a new generation of “MySpace” groups whose popularity was driven by the internet. How long ago that now feels. Yet, far from rock’n’roll relics, the performance confirms Arctic Monkeys as past, present and future masters of noisy, pretension-free escapism. At Electric Picnic they bring down the shutters with verve. If only the rain had held off.