Certainly there’s a lot of pressure being labeled the Second Coming of British Rock. The Arctic Monkeys set a U.K. record for first-week debut sales with Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, and have been praised by many as saviors of guitar rock — given no small boost by their reputation for an enthralling live show. So it was a surprise when the Britons’ Saturday night performance at the Kool Haus in Toronto was overshadowed by their lesser-known supporting act, Brooklyn-based trio We Are Scientists.
On the last night of what they dubbed the “Jus’ Monkeyin’ Around Tour”, the Scientists took the stage before a sold-out crowd. Backed by a rhythm section in matching blue dress shirts, unassumingly handsome, polo-clad frontman Keith Murray quickly became the center of attention with his erratic dance moves. The group dove into the catchy guitar hook of “Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt,” moving the crowd with their cutting, post-punk riffs and dance-inducing rhythms. A mustachioed Cain, who’d donned safety goggles in a nod to the band’s name, impressed the crowd with his bass lines, while Tapper’s wild man approach to the drums produced a surprisingly sharp sound. Throughout the show, the math-chic trio was twice invaded by the unruly Arctic Monkeys — once to sing “oohs” during an enthusiastic reprise in “Can’t Lose” and later by frontman Alex Turner guesting on guitar and and Matt Helders on drums during the show-stopper, “Inaction.”
As if the Arctic Monkeys didn’t already have high expectations to meet, their supporting act’s riveting performance only made matters worse. With the cheering crowd ready for an amped-up evening of Brit rock, Turner instead opened the night with their ballad, “Riot Van,” gently singing, “Up rolls a riot van/ And sparks excitement in the boys.” They grabbed the audience’s attention, however, with the lone, bone-rattling drum fill of one of their debut’s major rockers, “The View From the Afternoon.”
But that was about as exciting as the Sheffield fourpiece got. Despite a hyperbolic reception and tight, angular songs about underage drinking and dancefloor hookups, the Arctic Monkeys’ stage presence was low-key — Turner displayed none of the moves of We Are Scientists’ Murray, instead coming off uninspired and aloof. The band was not helped by the oversized, warehouse-like venue.
Many of the fans, however, were not feeling all that critical: They responded with soccer chants, dancing and crowd surfing. The evening did have its highlights, from “Leave Before the Lights Come On” — the band’s next, but currently unreleased, single — to “Fake Tales of San Francisco,” on which Turner invited Scientist Murray to join on guitar “for old times’ sake.”
Capping the night with “A Certain Romance”, cool and collected, the Arctic Monkeys exited without returning for an encore — because that’s just how they do it every night. Unlike their tourmates, the Monkeys, with their stylized ennui, display exactly what it means to be too cool for school.