Last night's Arctic Monkeys show proved the kids still have spirit. This post-punk band from northern England debuted in 2006 with the fastest-selling album in British music history, while band members were still 19 and 20 years old. Four years and two more albums later, the band is cleaned up but still young -- and putting on a show with ripping energy and gritty sound that hasn't drowned in production gloss.
Many show-goers looked too young to have even owned the Arctic Monkeys' debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not. However, the crowd deserves credit for setting the tone with constant movement and heralding the band's first time in St. Louis with a riotous reception. The Pageant was not quite sold-out -- a bartender said they were about 100 tickets short -- but the pit reached capacity long before show time. Amid the swarm was a red-and-white English flag, a skyscraper-high red mohawk and loads of fist-waving youths.
Sleepy Sun opened with a set that can be described with key words from the sextet's bio: Psych-folk. San Fran-via-Santa Cruz. Face paint. The heavy-leaning hippies' set felt like one long song changing tempo, from groovy dirge to backwoods stomp, with vocalists Bret Constantino and Rachel Williams letting loose on harmonica and maracas, respectively. At best, with Williams' belting siren-song, Sleepy Sun recalled The Decemberists + Lavender Diamond + My Brightest Diamond's hard-prog tangents. At worst, it was like wandering too far from your tent at Bonnaroo, and winding up at the center of the wrong trippy drum circle.
Arctic Monkeys plugged in with "Dance Little Liar," a slow-starting burner off 2009's Humbug that turns soon enough to the business of bashing and thrashing. Then straight on to "Brianstorm" and "This House is a Circus," both of which sounded less tinny than they did on 2007's Favourite Worst Nightmare; thankfully, the sound wasn't too big as to muddle the instrument parts.
The set pulled from all three albums, and though the band's sound has progressed from the rip-roaring youth of its debut to the Josh Homme-co-produced growl of Humbug, the band pulled it all together with steady energy, impeccable vocals and artfully tossed-off attitude. Most significant, however, is Arctic Monkeys' built-from-the-bottom-up sound, centered on Matt Helders' incredible drumming. Hearing it live, you realize Helders' drum kit - labeled "Agile Beast" in black gaffer tape - is not just structure and support, but provides as much phrasing and leadership as Alex Turner's explode-on-target lyrics and vocals.
For the twentysomethings and nearly-twentysomethings, the show had the atmosphere of a riot within reach. During regular set closer "505," a bra was thrown onstage, and the band ignored it. A kid crowd-surfed, but took his shoes off so he couldn't kick anybody in the face. The fervor was in the bodies pogoing side-by-side for the entire set, and in a setlist torn into multiple pieces by audience members so more could get a share. Turner is admired for lyrics that sing straight at the unremarkable, sometimes grimy reality of suburban kids, as on "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor," one of the night's highlights: "There ain't no love, no Montagues or Capulets/ Just bangin tunes and DJ sets/ Dirty dance floors and dreams of naughtiness!" This crowd recognized the romance of their own seemingly unremarkable reality, and jumped out of their shoes for it.
Setlist: (help fill in the blanks, please!) 1. Dance Little Liar 2. Brianstorm 3. This House is a Circus 4. Still Take You Home 5. Potion Approaching 6. ??? 7. My Propeller 8. Crying Lightning 9. The View from the Afternoon 10. I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor 11. Cornerstone 12. ??? 13. Do Me a Favour 14. Pretty Visitors 15. Red Right Hand (Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds cover) 16. If You Were There, Beware 17. 505 Encore: 18. Fluorescent Adolescent 19. ???