Sheffield’s indie icons may have kicked up a fuss on your social media feed, but their Friday Glastonbury headline set went entirely as they intended – and what could be more iconic than that?
Words: Ali Shutler, Jamie Muir.
Photos: Patrick Gunning.
Friday Night. Glastonbury 2013. As the opening kicks and riffs of ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ (out at that point for a matter of days) lights up Worthy Farm, it signalled the start of a bold new era for a band that could have called it quits there and then and still stood as one of the all-time most influential British acts. Ten years on, Friday Night at Glastonbury 2023, an era-defining night sets this apart – however you choose to judge it – as Arctic Monkeys crowning glory.
It’s not just that Arctic Monkeys are the British band who have – arguably – defined this century. It’s hard to sum up their influence and legacy, yet they’re still carving their own path far removed from any nostalgia show. It’s written across the Pyramid tonight. ‘Sculptures Of Anything Goes’ isn’t how most would kick off a festival headlining set, but it throws any expectation aside. What follows is a production of Arctic Monkeys viewed through the here and now.
‘Brianstorm’. ‘Snap Out Of It’. ‘Don’t Sit Down Cos I Moved Your Chair’. ‘Crying Lightning’. ‘Teddy Picker’. The opening section pulls from across all corners of their star-studded career to date. Alex Turner’s stage presence may have gone through various forms over the years, but tonight it’s nothing short of captivating. Part James Bond villain, part Vegas crooner, he stalks the stage, every word commanding attention. The uncompromising, swaggering innovation is there for all to see – a band who firmly believe in every decision they make, regardless of what anyone else might think.
They may have already been on the road playing massive arena shows, but Glastonbury will always be a moment for any artist. Whether it’s the crunching riffs of ‘Arabella’, the singalong licks of ‘Do I Wanna Know?’, the grounded rawness of ‘There Better Be A Mirrorball’ and ‘Perfect Sense’ or the sheer pandemonium of ‘505’, ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ and closer ‘R U Mine?’ – there’s enough in there to call it a greatest hits set from a band who, even when recalling their past glories, never want to abandon their present.
Refusing to take the easiest route, when cuts like ‘Mardy Bum’ or ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ come, they arrive from the perspective of a band who’ve lived on the top of the pyramid (pardon the pun) for over fifteen years. In full command of who they are and what they’re about, it’s a confident headline turn that lesser bands would shy away from.
There have been many Arctic Monkeys moments through the years, yet tonight at Glastonbury feels different. A crowning return from a band who will go down in the history books as one of the all-time greats and one who shaped music culture whilst firmly sticking to their own path – their headline set at Glastonbury 2023 may prove divisive to some looking for an echo of a different time, but it’s also playing out exactly as they intended.
‘The Monkeys Are Back On The Farm!’ proclaims Alex Turner halfway through the set. Friday Night. Glastonbury 2023. Arctic Monkeys can still stake a claim as the most important band of the 21st century. There’s no arguing with that.
Speaking of Arctic Monkeys, it’s been nine years since Alex Turner had the first and last word on that ol’ rock’n’roll is dead debate with that smirking BRIT Award speech. Still, today is proof that the next generation of guitar heroes are thriving. Maisie Peters takes to the Pyramid Stage to celebrate the release of her brilliant new album ‘The Good Witch’, comfortably switching between quiet intimacy and bombastic stadium rock, while Nieve Ella continues to grow into a force to reckon with over on the BBC Introducing stage. Dork faves Pale Waves take to the Woodsies stage with the swaggering confidence of a band who now knows exactly where they fit into the scene, and it’s a similar story for CHVRCHES who say goodbye to their ‘Screen Violence’ era with glitter and gore.
It’s Dylan who shines brightest, though. She may introduce ‘Girl Of Your Dreams’ as her “wannabe rockstar” song and ask the crowd to go nuts for its sneering guitar solo because her dad is in the audience, but there’s not a moment of her fiery 30-minute set on the BBC Introducing Stage where she doesn’t look every part the swaggering rockstar.
From the achingly powerful ‘Lovestruck’ through the venomous ‘Someone Else’ to the sleek, bombastic hammer of ‘Every Heart But Mine’, Dylan effortlessly dances between classic rock and polished pop. New, currently-unreleased song ‘Liar Liar’ is more chunky than anything she has released so far, and sees polished vocals wrestle with fierce drums and snarling guitar. It already feels very special. “What do we think,” she asks the crowd with a smirk.
Later, Dylan performs a joyous cover of Harry Styles’ ‘Kiwi’ and her own ‘You’re Not Harry Styles’, which today is a glorious kiss-off to an ex who’s currently sat at home while she plays her very first Glastonbury. ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’ closes out the set in thunderous fashion, with a little synchronised dance routine thrown in for good measure. That rock & roll, eh?
Of course, there’s still a place for punk rockers of a different vintage at Glastonbury.
“We want to thank all the bands who warmed up for us, and we want to thank all the bands who will cool you down after us,” Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist exclaims. When The Hives take to the stage, it’s nothing short of a revolution. An early slot offers up a perfect shot of adrenaline to kickstart Glastonbury in thrilling fashion. Even three decades in, they remain one of the best live bands on the planet – and it’s proven here. Singalongs like ‘Hate To Say I Told You So’, ‘Main Offender’ and ‘Tick Tick Boom’ are as incendiary as ever.
One band that thankfully manages to keep the explosions to a minimum is Royal Blood. After their recent don’t-call-it-a-temper-tantrum at BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend when an audience that came for pop wasn’t that fussed about ‘rock music’, they’re on much safer ground. Keeping things simple always suits the Brighton two-piece, and while they’ll never lack in bombast, pulling off their second-top Pyramid slot without major incident feels more like a successful lesson in damage control as they seek to move on from being Twitter’s main characters.
It doesn’t hurt that they’re following up on one of Glastonbury 2023’s biggest narratives. Yes, The ChurnUps were the Foo Fighters all along. Surprise? Not really. But with a crowd that ranks up there with Worthy Farm’s most impressive, they’re a band on a mission. It might not go down well with some to suggest it, but giving Dave Grohl and co a tight hour to smash out some hits is a triumph. There’s no time to overly extend those iconic songs when you’ve got a lot of material to fit into a much shorter timeframe. It creates an urgency and emotion that feels like a release. While the Foos have played live since the passing of Taylor Hawkins, including some seriously emotional tribute shows, Glastonbury’s magic ground always adds an extra significance, even for a band from the other side of the pond. They’ll be back, Dave promises. Soon too. While he pushes a 2024 tour, you can read the subtext.
While the indies and rockers of Glastonbury may spark discourse, there’s but one undefinable truth on Worthy Farm. We do not deserve Carly Rae Jepsen. With a set that sparkles with pure pop perfection, she’s an antidote to an avalanche of opinions and hot takes. There’s only one line with Jeppers – unadulterated brilliance. Kicking off with ‘Surrender My Heart’, ‘Run Away With Me’ is an early win. ‘Call Me Maybe’, arriving halfway through the set, is enough to get Ed Balls emotional (no, really), while ‘I Really Like You’, ‘I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance’, and an impossibly fun ‘Beach House’ all land flawlessly. As ‘Cut to the Feeling’ blows the doors off, Arctic Monkeys may have factually headlined the Friday of Glastonbury 2023, but can you really claim that Carly Rae Jepsen didn’t?