Are Arctic Monkeys tickets worth $100 on Craigslist?
NEXT WEEK, I take off for Austin, Texas, for my annual trip to South by Southwest, the Super Bowl of music conferences. Four days face-down in bands, parties, seminars and barbecue (I'm staying a block away from Ben's Long Branch BBQ and am savoring the brisket already). Among my circled must-sees are Morrissey, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Chamillionaire, Spank Rock, Billy Bragg, The Rub DJs, Solange, Andy Dick and Lady Sovereign. There's a wealth of styles represented. Indie-download retailer eMusic is sponsoring a day show with Echo and the Bunnymen, Blackalicious, Spoon and Mr. Lif. That's diverse entertainment.
One band I'm resolved to see (but won't be able to get in to) is Arctic Monkeys, which play a coveted Friday-night prime-time slot. The Sheffield quartet sold 360,000 records its first week in the U.K., and the hype factor is off the Richter. Their appearance will make previous years' hypes Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the White Stripes look like a Turlock polka band.
I'm not immune to hype, so for the past week I've been under deep Arctic Monkeys immersion (sedation?). I've had their debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, on constant repeat. How is it sounding? The best thing thus far is the confident ownership over their music. The fateful story line is that brothers and band mates Alex and Jamie Cook received guitars for Christmas three years ago and funneled their influences and obsessions (the Clash, the Smiths, Roots Manuva) into what became the Arctic Monkeys' sound. They love the bottom-three guitar strings and walk them around in woozy circles on "A Certain Romance," which is probably my favorite song on Whatever. "Mardy Bum" is also similarly dippy and hooky, while "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor" is deceptively simple yet complex in its layering of influences: a mulleted David Bowie vocal and pose, Buzzcocks' speed and distortion and the stifled yawn of 1,001 British pretenders to the throne.
Yet I'm still searching for what makes them so special. Did my copy not come with an Arctic Monkey Kool-Aid packet? While the brothers Cook extrude exciting sounds ringing about their brain, Andy Nicholson's bass knocks and pings like a B-grade Bruce Foxton and drummer Matt Helders taps out dance rhythms (check the Zigaboo Modeliste-like breaks on "Still Take You Home"). Unified on Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, it's a choppy jalopy that rings pleasant but maybe a little too familiar. Are the Arctic Monkeys the heirs apparent to the Beatles, as has been batted around on blogs and British press? I don't know. But I do know Brits have a long history of fawning over artists that lacked stick. And I believe it's tough to go bat shit over a band that so far can best be summed up: "If you liked the Strokes, you'll love Arctic Monkeys." Far from a ringing endorsement.
So, along with the rest of the music industry muttons, I'll brave the lines in Austin to see Arctic Monkeys. There is an alternative: catch their Monday show at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall. But, perusing Craigslist, I see that a few unscrupulous types are selling Arctic Monkeys ducats for $100 a pop. The price will probably rise closer to the date, and currently there are more buyers than sellers. And I'd hate to see what scalpers get on show night (personally, I'd rather strut around in an Alex Smith 49ers jersey in the Black Hole than fatten these opportunists' pockets). But a bigger bill of goods is being sold by the media. Arctic Monkeys are good, possibly great, but far from the Second Coming of the Stone Roses. As with previous hype-driven British exports, take Arctic Monkeys with a chunk of rock salt and enjoy the music for what it is. Now excuse me while I return my iPod to its regularly scheduled playlists.