Arctic Monkeys at Kool Haus – September 15, 2013

Photographs by Randall Vasquez

Arctic Monkeys must really like Toronto’s Kool Haus. The English band is popular enough to sell out the larger Sound Academy or Echo Beach, but luckily for ticket holders a more intimate setting seems to be the preference. Their Sunday night show marked their fifth appearance at the venue and the kick off to their North American fall tour.

It’s a venue that works in their favour, especially when compared to their last visit to the city in March 2012. Back then they were appetizers to The Black Keys; it was a foray into stadium rock that resulted in a rather blasé mix of audience indifference and a comparatively weak fourth album. But on the eve of the release of their excellent (and much acclaimed) fifth album, AM, and with the four-piece as tight as ever, Sunday night served as a reminder to why this band is one of modern rock’s best.

Show openers Drowners started the night with an offering of peppy post-punk. The four-piece have good energy and know how to sell themselves on stage. While other New York City bands have already done this “I Can’t Believe It’s Not British” brand of rock – see: The Strokes and The Drums –it generally plays pretty well to a crowd. Inoffensive, catchy enough, and entertaining to watch. There’s an audience for it, and I’m sure we’ll hear more from Drowners as a result. That said… guitarist Jack Ridley should probably (/definitely) leave the singing to vocalist Matt Hitt.

Really though, they should all just leave the singing to Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner. Time and again, the 27 year-old has proven to be a gifted vocalist and lyricist, his verses spewing forth in a well-controlled but altogether tongue-twisting rapid fire. As a bandleader he exudes confident cool with effortless ease. Much has been said about his change in style – back in 2011 he was all shaggy hair, now he looks much more like a 1950s greaser. At one point Turner even pulled out a comb to slick back his hair. Totally unnecessary and rehearsed, and yet very few people could make that move looks so very cool.

The band opened with the bass-heavy, stomping beat of the album opener “Do I Wanna Know?” It’s an ominous song that harnessed the audience’s anticipation – bassist Nick O’Malley and drummer Matt Helders lending their voices to the call and response structure. Then came the familiar opening of 2007’s Favourite Worst Nightmare. With the assaulting instrumental start to “Brianstorm” came the mosh pit. Bodies surged forward, arms were lifted to the air, and the Kool Haus got exceptionally sweaty for one of the band’s biggest songs to date. Following it up with “Dancing Shoes,” a track from their 2006 debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, was a smart crowd pleaser as well.

The Arctic Monkeys were on point, the sold out crowd was enjoying it, and it felt almost like a greatest hits act – a testament to the strength of their back catalogue. Other highlights came early with “Teddy Picker” and 2009 single “Crying Lightning,” the band leaving their newer offerings to the more central portion of their set. The six new songs they did show off were greeted by huge enthusiasm – much more so when compared to 2011 and the debut of Suck It and See material. The bouncy “Snap Out of It” borrows R&B elements and featured a falsetto bridge from Turner while “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” is about as close to a rap beat as the Monkeys are going to get (and that’s pretty damn close.) “Arabella” is already a fan favourite, Turner’s fast-paced lyrics keeping pace with classic 70s guitar riffs.

The stage banter was also great – Turner segueing between the Helders sung “Brick by Brick” to “Old Yellow Bricks” with the line: “I’ve got so many songs about bricks, Toronto. Here’s another one.” He also had fun with the crowd, referring to them as “Ontario-e-ans” on multiple occasions, posing with his arms raised during songs, and introducing breakout single “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” by saying: “I can’t help it Toronto, I’ve been trying to hold it in all night. Ladiessssss…” Again, cue the mosh pit.

If I’m being nit-picky, the only problem was the show’s length. With five albums to their name, the show could certainly have gone longer. Clocking in at just under an hour and a half felt abbreviated. I get not wanting to tire out the crowd or overstay your welcome, but the Arctic Monkeys could easily have thrown in a couple more singles like “When the Sun Goes Down,” “Fake Tales of San Francisco,” or “My Propellor.”

Maybe I’m just being greedy though. The Sheffield-formed, now Los Angeles-based quartet definitely put on a sweaty rock show. They ended the night with an encore of the creeping “One for the Road” (sadly without the help of Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, who appears on the new record) and Favourite Worst Nightmare classics’ “Fluorescent Adolescent” and “505.”

In short: see this band live. Of course, if the Arctic Monkeys are going to keep playing the Kool Haus you’re going to need to remember to get your tickets early.

Thanks to Live Nation for media access.

About author

Former Music Editor & Concert Photographer at Live in Limbo. Sarah was born in Toronto. She's worked at some places that you've heard of (like NXNE) and some that you haven't. She is an Academy Delegate at the JUNOs (CARAS). You can usually find Sarah at a concert, on Twitter @beets, or on Instagram @sarahrix. She also likes dogs and cheeseburgers.