Reviewed on Tuesday May 6 (photo by Ashley Mar)
These days, Alex Turner carries a comb.
Arctic Monkeys once played every note of every song as fast as humanly possible, just to prove they could. And while they always had the sound – or different versions of it, honed over 12 years and five studio albums – now they have the show.
It’s all marshalled, of course, by Turner. Pausing between songs to comb his hair back into place (lest it seem he’s lost his complete control ofanythingin the room), the swaggering frontman is at last the showman his band always needed. Without discounting the contributions of his bandmates, the Sheffield lads’ live shows before this tour were always about the chemistry between Turner and drummer Matt Helders – and by extension, Jamie Cook and Nick O’Malley. Things have changed.
For the first time as well, there are up to three extra musicians onstage to fill out the group’s sound. It makes sense – inAM, they have a stunning new album to perform, and it calls upon new armoury: for ‘Fireside’ and ‘No. 1 Party Anthem’ there’s an acoustic guitar deployed, while Turner loses the six-string altogether for ‘Arabella’ and instead works the crowd.
It’s a young crowd, too. Many faces here, believe it or not, would have been in primary school eight years ago whenWhatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Notfirst landed in the mainstream. Perhaps some of them weren’t even that old. The setlist suits, heavily dominated byAM, just as those two letters tower over the stage as a backdrop.
Somehow it seems, though, that Arctic Monkeys are battling to settle on a middle ground. Show opener ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ kicks along faster than on record, but ‘Brianstorm’, ‘Dancing Shoes’ and crowd favourite ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ are significantly slower. Turner may break a sweat, but the sharp grey suit jacket never leaves his back.
The insistence on middle tempos, and a new setlist selection that includes ‘Cornerstone’ and ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ at the back end, means the performance never builds to quite the intensity one might have expected. But if you wanted to see Arctic Monkeys playing all their songs as fast as they could, well, you’d come to see the wrong band.
With all but two songs fromAMfeaturing in their biggest Australian show so far,and only two from their debut, Arctic Monkeys have come to a crossroads – and they demand the attention for that reason alone. Perhaps the album many still consider the most important debut of the century is no longer even the most important album in Arctic Monkeys’ career.