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VIDEO: Arctic Monkeys at the House of Blues

Arctic Monkeys perform "My Propeller." See a gallery of Derek Kouyoumjian's live show photos here

Just five months after they last touched down on Boston, mop-topped Brits the Arctic Monkeys stopped by the HoB this past Sunday, headlining a sold-out show with New Jersey power-punk trio the Screaming Females. (Only one of whom, by the way, is a chick. That would be their pint-sized lead singer, whose gritty, powerful vocals belie her tiny stature.)

The shoulder-to-shoulder crowd was packed with dedicated fans -- no musical window-shoppers present, if those feverishly clamoring for the band on all sides of me were any indication. The Monkeys slouched onstage, greeting the crowd casually, with little fanfare, before diving right in. "Less talk, more action" was the prevailing sentiment, and the throng howled their approval as lead singer Alex Turner unleashed his smooth vocals on the room. When the band broke into "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor," off their freshman album Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, no one seemed to care what they looked like on the HoB's floor. Heads banged, hair flew, and one particularly energetic lass got busy doing something that looked suspiciously like a hoedown. For their part, Arctic Monkeys don't rely on choreography or shtick, preferring to let their darkly melodic alt-rock stand on its own. Hair in their faces, eyes cast mostly downward, the band skipped all banter, preferring to remain a bit aloof, or maybe just unaware of their audience. Their performance didn't suffer much for it. 

 The Arctic Monkeys began as relatively young blood; they released their first studio album when Turner was just 20 years old. So I was a little taken aback by the rather unprecedented number of middle-aged, conservative types nodding in time around me. Now, maybe it was where I was standing, nursing a solo beer on the fringes of the heaving masses -- perhaps I'd stumbled into the chaperone section -- but a more likely explanation is that the four-man band's sound has really matured over the course of their three-album career. Their most recent record, 2009's Humbug (which proved fodder for most of the night's setlist), demonstrates the strides the band has taken, both lyrically and instrumentally. Such Humbug tracks as "My Propeller" and "Crying Lightning" sounded noticeably tighter, the band's sound more harnessed and focused than that of the frenetic-yet-infectious songs with which they first made their mark on the American music scene.

 Though it's true that Turner's stage presence contains a certain signature touch of ennui, the band seemed to actually gain energy as the night wore on. By the end of the roughly 90-minute set, they seemed to have just hit their stride. Which is perhaps why they returned for not one, but two more songs -- just when I was beginning to suspect that the HoB had put a moratorium on encores. (The last four or five bands I've seen there have left the stage and stayed gone.) The audience worked for that extra set, though: everyone seemed resolved to wait it out, refusing to leave the venue even as the stage crew began industriously shlepping equipment around, looking as though they were packing up. The house shared a robust holler when the band shuffled back onstage for "Secret Door." After the Arctic Monkeys took their leave for the second and final time, one reveler summed the night up in his remark to a friend: "Dude, that performance was a little weird ... but I liked it."

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