When something is historic, you just know. Reading Festival is synonymous with those sorts of moments. Scattered throughout its history are the biggest artists of their time putting on the defining shows of their era. The list is endless – Nirvana, My Chemical Romance, Paramore, The 1975. We can go on for days.
Yet Arctic Monkeys feel like a band intrinsically linked with these fields. From that early set in the smallest tent (that everyone will say they were at, but definitely weren’t) to massive Main Stage moments, headline turns and more – their very DNA can be traced through this festival’s lineups across the years. There’s a reason why it’s their name that’s so often the first to pop up every year when lineups are teased. This is home turf, and a stage they command. It’s why on a Saturday night in 2022, as their anticipated new chapter begins, their set is the talk of the weekend. To put it bluntly, THIS is what Reading is all about.
Keeping their cards close to their chest after a run of shows in Europe, tonight is their grandstand return to UK stages. They remain a band whose shape-shifting sense of mystery blends perfectly with their soaring tales and anthems that not only capture modern life but define it. There are few, if any, bands that can come close – and as the lights fall and the moment arrives, Arctic Monkeys silence the rest of the musical world for a night that will rank high in the history books of defining Reading moments.
From the opening kick drum of ‘Do I Wanna Know?’, lights filling the Reading field and flares billowing – it feels every bit as momentous as their famed turn at Glastonbury in 2013. Fizzing with purpose, a scorching early run of ‘Brianstorm’, ‘Snap Out Of It’, ‘Crying Lightning’, ‘Teddy Picker’… actually, it doesn’t stop. Hit after hit follows, a greatest hits that, when levelled up against almost any other band, would make said band feel mellow. A crooning ‘Cornerstone’, an electric ‘The View From The Afternoon’, a rare outing for scene-stealing ‘Suck It And See’ closer ‘That’s Where You’re Wrong’, the grooving ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High’ and a spellbinding ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’ may jump between styles, but all fit effortlessly together.
There’s a reason why Arctic Monkeys have remained at the forefront of alternative culture without falling into traps of obscurity or nostalgia. It’s because they beat firmly to the sound of their own drum, blocking out the opinions and suggestions from a world that revels in being kept firmly on its toes. You can hear that in the only taste of upcoming new album ‘The Car’, ‘I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am’. Dressed in 70s style, it leaves Reading wanting more as another move that rails against boring and the expected.
It’s all carried by this undefinable aura that Arctic Monkeys have conjured since the very beginning. With Alex Turner prowling the stage, a frankly ridiculous ‘From The Ritz To The Rubble’ leads the way to a powerhouse ending. Mosh pits clatter all over the shop to ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’, riffs punch and bounce for ‘Knee Socks’, and the sheer release of ‘505’ threatens to quake the ground everyone is standing on. ‘One Point Perspective, ‘Arabella’ and ‘R U Mine?’ close out a night that doesn’t trade in ifs, buts or maybes – just absolutes. It’s all just in a night’s work when you’re Arctic Monkeys.
Tonight isn’t really about a new era or a new chapter. It’s wiping the board clean and setting the record clear. It’s them reminding us that, when it comes to the biggest bands, there are few who can compare. Remember us, they ask? Reading says yes. Arctic Monkeys are setting the agenda once again. Like they ever weren’t…