Page last updated at 04:04 GMT, Sunday, 30 August 2009 05:04 UK

Monkeys mix the old and the new

By Liam Allen
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Arctic Monkeys
The Sheffield band have found a new maturity

A rapturous Reading crowd has welcomed the Arctic Monkeys back to the British festival scene after two years away.

Fans of the Sheffield band sang all the words to songs from their third album Humbug, only released on Monday.

But old favourites like I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor and When The Sun Goes Down provided the real highlights.

The new album was mostly produced by Josh Homme, the frontman of US hard rockers Queens Of The Stone Age, in the Californian desert.

Among the spectators, plumber Bobby Young, 34, from Glasgow, said the mixture of old and new was "sound, really good".

"The punters liked the tunes they knew - something they could sing along to," he said.

'Ghostly surreal'

"But I think it was pretty good they played the new stuff too. It was ballsy to do that."

His favourite song had been the band's last of the night, 505 - from second album Favourite Worst Nightmare - because "it brings a wee tear to the eye".

Frontman Alex Turner told the BBC last month the band were "a bit more ready" for their performances at Reading and its sister festival in Leeds than they had been for their last UK festival outings in the summer of 2007, which included headlining at Glastonbury.

"Glastonbury taught us that; I think we grew up in some way," Turner said.

Arctic Monkeys
The band are known for their warped love stories and wry social observation

That new-found maturity was evident in songs from Humbug, and from the opening chiming guitar riff of set-opener My Propeller, the Reading crowd seemed to be on board.

"Coax me out, my love, and have a spin of my propeller," sang Turner and thousands of others as the drums dropped out early in the song.

With the audience in the palm of their hand, it seemed a strange choice then to follow with a relatively obscure cover - Red Right Hand by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - the B-side to Humbug's lead single Crying Lightning.

The band - who topped a Reading bill that included Prodigy, Maximo Park and Ian Brown - immediately resumed full service with that ghostly surreal single - which Turner himself describes as "strange as far as a pop song goes".

Homme's rocky influence became clearer as the song was played out to more cheers.

'Fever pitch'

But the new songs played on Saturday night which really stood out (as well as My Propeller) were Secret Door - with its refrain of "fools on parade" - and Cornerstone, the story of a boy who asks a succession of girls if he can call them by the name of his lost love.

All three were produced not by Homme but by James Ford, who helmed Favourite Worst Nightmare as well as The Age of the Understatement by Turner's 1960s-influenced side project, The Last Shadow Puppets.

And all three songs are typical of the warped love stories, imbued with Turner's wry social observation, that the band have built their name on.

Arctic Monkeys
The performance lacked interaction with the crowd

It is no coincidence, then, that the band's earlier efforts - including I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor, When The Sun Goes Down, Fluorescent Adolescent and Brianstorm - took the atmosphere at Reading to fever pitch.

The acrobatic drumming of Matt Helders - the only Arctic Monkey not to have grown long rock star hair in the interim - helped to drive the crowd and the band into that frenzy.

Unsurprisingly, the new songs - which have been in the public domain for less than a week - did not have the same impact as these old favourites. But the fans will grow into them with time, as will the band.

Musician Dan Jones, 24, said: "I saw them at Leeds last night but they were better tonight.

"The new songs were really good. I like Secret Door, that's a favourite of mine, I really like that song - I thought it went down fantastic."

Helen Clements, 27, from London, meanwhile, said of the new material: "I thought it was good but I thought it was a bit slow."

Some will have left the festival site disappointed by the omission of a couple of singles - including Teddy Picker from Favourite Worst Nightmare.

The only other thing missing from the performance was interaction between Turner and the crowd.

For one who has so much to say in his cleverly-crafted lyrics, the 23-year-old Yorkshireman is a man of few words on stage.

"We're gonna leave you now," he said at the end.

"And I think if I'm just brusque about it like that, it's better that way. It's easier for me that way."

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