Written by Carolyn Lees I was most excited for my second concert encounter with Arctic Monkeys because it wasn’t going to be outside in a field of mud. Having seen them pre-Humbug this summer at soggy All Points West festival in New York, I looked forward to a more informed experience of tracks from the new album and a longer set that could include more classics. While the first wish was granted, the lack of material from older albums was an obvious disappointment for American fans who get to see the band so rarely. The band made choices to accommodate the dramatically new sound of Humbug, and while the set was cohesive and polished, the frenetic energy that once defined the Arctic Monkeys’ sound felt diminished. The show kicked off with ‘Dance Little Liar,’ an unusually slow-burning opener that set the tone for the night. The clash between old material and new became apparent in follow-up ‘Brianstorm,’ which psyched the crowd up and injected more energy into the set. ‘Brianstorm’ segued neatly into lead single ‘Crying Lightning,’ bolstered by a militaristic drum roll during the bridge. The showcase of new material continued with the brilliant cover of Nick Cave’s ‘Red Right Hand’ that has been justifiably raved about since its release. ‘Red Right Hand’ is, tonally, what all of Humbug should be. Its creeping vocals and staccato drums echo standout tracks from the album like ‘My Propeller’ and outshine less spectacular moments like ‘Secret Door.’ The track was paired perfectly with ‘Propeller,’ which got a dramatic crowd reaction for its bombastic start before boiling up slowly again with twisting, Bond-theme guitars. A change in tone occurred with ‘This House Is a Circus,’ which galloped into ‘Still Take You Home’ and ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor.’ Crowd response to classic tracks was massive, particularly the call and response chorus of ‘Dancefloor’ that had the room shouting back “You’re dynamite!” The worst moment of the night was cacophonous b-side ‘Sketchead,’ a track that has neither the nuanced structure of Humbug nor the bright energy of Whatever People Say I Am... I thought a live version might change my feelings, but my dislike lingered as the band thrashed through a graceless arrangement. Brilliantly structured ‘Cornerstone’ and bouncy ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ redeemed the set as great closers. ‘Cornerstone’ in particular proved itself as one of the best tracks from the new album; it retains the band’s clever, personal lyrical structure while introducing a subtler musical approach. A very brief encore saw Turner looking slightly muddled, particularly as he appeared on stage with the greeting, “Philly. Philly. Filet mignon.” ‘505’ closed the set rather softly, and the band departed to mixed chatter as the crowd filtered out. The influence of Josh Homme’s production is apparent not only on Humbug, but on how the band tours. The interest in musical showmanship during their shows has changed; focus on Turner’s hyper literate lyrics is diminishing, and the band seems to have honed their skills to accommodate more complicated instrumentals. Turner’s vocals have also become more nuanced; the subtle emotion of ‘Cornerstone’ and seductive drawl of ‘My Propeller’ are departures from old tracks like ‘Dancing Shoes.’ That said, they haven’t quite made the transition from Sheffield punks to desert prowling rockers. Their best moments are still found in the combination of Turner’s wordy verses and simple, catchy hooks. Tracks like ‘Secret Door’ lack the punch of ‘Dancefloor,’ though the winding guitar of Humbug can also be compelling. The best marriage of the two appears in tracks like ‘Lightning’ and stomping ‘Dangerous Animals,’ with chanting chorus that could develop into a live favorite if Turner and the band ever remedy the strange lag between music and vocals that I experienced during both APW and this gig. While the band is relatively motionless, concentrating on solid playing rather than dramatic showmanship, Alex Turner exudes a rockstar confidence that makes him magnetically watchable. That said, there’s slightly too much arrogance in his style, particularly as the band introduces the new sound of Humbug. He barely spoke to the crowd or even looked up from behind his affected, grunge-rock long hair; the most interaction occurred when he drowned out the crowd’s chants for ‘Mardy Bum’ (which, criminally, wasn’t part of the set) with guitar feedback. Overall, the show represented a turning point for the band as they move away from their teenage punk roots. While their musicianship and the nuance of the songs themselves has increased, the energy that made the Monkeys so compelling is fading. Their willful departure from their old sound is admirable as a musical evolution, yet there is also a sense that they’re spitting in the faces of fans. The pair next to me lamented the absence of clever ‘When the Sun Goes Down,’ but Turner and Co. seemed to feel that they can’t return to the sound that made them famous because it undermines the levity of their new work. Good bands evolve, but great bands do so while remembering their roots.