THE spectre of Lou Reed loomed large over Monday night’s Arctic Mondays gig at the Echo Arena.
Support band The Strypes get in on the act first, dropping a cover of Perfect Day into their terrific set of wired up rhythm and blues -think 1963 Rolling Stones and you’re halfway there – before the Monkeys take the brave step of using 20-odd minutes of the late Velvet Underground man’s best songs as warm-up music.
Following the likes of Waiting for the Man, Vicious and I’ll be Your Mirror is no easy task, but when you’ve got Do I Wanna Know? in your arsenal as a set opener there’s every reason to be confident.
The song, which opened their headline appearance at Glastonbury this summer, sounds built for playing live, and its monstrous, crunching riff threatens to eat the Arena whole.
It’s a stunning start and, for the next five songs, the band don’t take their foot off the pedal for one minute.
Quashing any fears that the vast majority of the songs we would hear tonight would be “newies” from this year’s AM, we are treated to a rip-roaring blast through some of the band’s back catalogue – from Brianstorm through Dancing Shoes, Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair and Teddy Picker to Crying Lightning.
Although more back catalogue diamonds are scattered like confetti throughout the show – Mardy Bum, Fluorescent Adolescent and, to the crowd’s delight, I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor – the only problem with the Monkeys is that they have too many good songs to play everyone’s favourite so, unfortunately, there’s no Fake Tales of San Francisco or When The Sun Goes Down tonight.
What we do get, though, is the unbeatable thrill of watching a truly great British band at the peak of its powers.
The last 12 months or so – beginning with the Olympics opening ceremony – have seen the Monkeys transform into an outfit capable of competing for the title of “best band on the planet”.
That’s in no small part thanks to the charismatic, bequiffed Alex Turner, who has grown into one of the best frontmen in rock and is impossible to take your eyes off.
They’ve also injected an entirely unexpected layer of funk into their sound – witness tonight’s Arabella, Fireside and I Wanna Be Yours – for which drummer Matt Helders and bassist Nick O’Malley deserve praise.
Following a final nod to Reed – a marvellous, mostly acoustic, version of Walk on the Wild Side with former Coral man Bill Ryder-Jones on guitar – they end with a swinging Snap Out of It and RU Mine? The crowd roar their approval and the answer is clear.
By Andrew Greenhalgh