MeIt’s a cloudy night in Melbourne, but of course I’m still wearing my sunglasses. Few frontmen are more effortlessly committed to rock stardom theatrics than Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner. At least these days, he seems to enjoy it. The last time I saw Turner performing the side act Last His Shadow His Puppets in London a few years ago, he could barely stand up straight. He looks positively energetic as he takes to the stage at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl to kick off the Australian leg of their latest album tour.
The tour was “extremely sold out,” the promoter said in advance. Australians have loved the Arctic Monkeys since they crashed with Triple J in 2006 with I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor. Nearly 20 years later, and six albums released, the band’s sound is understandably very different. Gone are the indie grunts of their early albums and the greaser smoothness of AM. Gone, thankfully, is the cosmic weirdness of his Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, his album of jazz-influenced concepts centered around a lunar resort that confused some fans.
Arctic Monkeys’ The Car era followed the same path as Tranquility. “We were more interested in turning the ‘rock band’ bits on and off than stringing over rock,” Turner recently told The Guardian about the new album. Thankfully, he also ditched the word “salad” that was distracting Tranquility. The word included lyrics such as “swamp monster struggling to connect” and “(she looks happy) good morning / (she looks happy) cheeseburger”. Some critics kindly called it baffling. (Some might just call it bubbling.)
In a suit and sunglasses, the leadie catches a glimpse of Turner’s Bob Dylan (he’s a fan) during his performance. You can also see David Byrne’s shadow every time he twists his wrist as he laments the gentrification of the universe in Four Stars Out of Five. He gives plenty of devilish hip thrusts and elegant high kicks in the air every time he hits a particularly unsettling note on his guitar. He likes flashy turns and stares that are sure to make the audience scream. Yet Turner mysteriously appears elsewhere on stage, almost like autopilot, as his fingers dance effortlessly over his guitar. Very little chat. “Are you okay?” he trails in a wild shriek. “What a relief.”
Neither Turner nor the band hold grudges against fans who prefer the old over the new. As such, the setlist is surprisingly huge. Opening with ominous new song Sculptures of Anything Goes, we dive into Brianstorm’s booming drums and Snap Out of It’s upbeat heartbeat. This pick-and-mix approach continued into the encore, beginning with The Car’s lush ballad “There’d Better Be a Mirrorball,” which felt like it was made for a Bond movie, and 2007’s guitar-his It ends with “505” which is the track. It recently hit TikTok.
The Car songs don’t blend into the back catalog as much as you’d like. In these moments, it sounds less like Arctic Monkeys and more like Alex Turner featuring Arctic Monkeys. They called for the new album to be played live, without strings, which stripped some of its captivating opulence. The notes of are ferociously piercing and brilliant on their own.
The stage where the whole band has expanded to 7 people is sophisticated enough to enjoy the spectacle casually without being bound by the change of genre. While singing the more elegiac songs, the energy of already-heard tracks like “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” was coveted. – recite the perfect words by the crowd – or the sulky don’t-sit-down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair. But who really cares when every note sounds so precise? No more betting on whether you look good on the floor. Now he encourages us all to slow dance.
Beneath all the Rock God Theater, we get a glimpse of warmth at the end as Turner remains alone on stage, enjoying the applause and kissing the cheap seats.