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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Arctic Monkeys @ Miller Lite Oasis, Summerfest

June 25, 2014

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When it comes to Summerfest, people place a curious significance on opening day, as if it’s some sort barometer by which you can read precisely how the next week and a half are going to play out. It’s meaningless conjecture of course. There are far too many variables to determine what kind of festival experience you’ll have from day to day, but if it did in fact set the tone for what followed, you could do worse than Wednesday night’s relatively subdued vibe, probably brought on, at least in part, by the persistently dreary weather. That’s not to say the threatening clouds totally dampened the enthusiasm of all the drunken hooligans that come out of the woodwork this time of year (nothing says “Welcome to Summerfest” like sidestepping some fresh vomit immediately after entering the gate), but many in attendance appeared to be taking it easy, including, unfortunately, the Arctic Monkeys.

It’s not as if the U.K. band, which has steadily worked its way into American mainstream in the wake of their smash 2006 debut Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not, had any problem drawing a crowd, though their competition among the other ground-stage headliners wasn’t exactly fierce, but the throng that did show up didn’t seem all that moved by a set focused heavily on the kind of slower, less compact styles the band has been exploring lately. Despite starting their career full of sharp wit, speed and spunk (yes, anglophiles, the crude double entendre is intended), they’ve since moved on to a bluesier hard rock sound, as heard on last year’s AM, which, between the soulful back-up singers and the extended guitar solos, feels a little forced. Wednesday they even broke into a few bars of Sabbath’s “Fairies Wear Boots,” just in case you didn’t get the message.

While there’re some decent tunes scattered among the newer material’s eclectic self-indulgence, it was pretty clear what the crowd wanted to hear. On the rare occasions an upbeat oldie like “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” or “Fluorescent Adolescent” got trotted out, they immediately responded, but during many of the AM entries, save for a few standouts like the poppy “Knee Socks,” it wasn’t at all uncommon to overhear people talking about cutting out early and beating the traffic. They didn’t seem disappointed, just unenthused, and the band never quite reached an energy level capable of changing that, so while they saved AM’s lead single “R U Mine?” for an exclamation point of a closer, by that time a noticeable amount of the original audience had drifted away. Going to Summerfest is more enjoyable when the crowds are mild, but it’s another story entirely when the music is.