It’s been widely reported that the opening line of Arctic Monkeys’ most recent – and divisive – album, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, was about Alex Turner just wanting to be one of The Strokes. If you’re going to take away one thing about that line ( a line that very well could have been a throw away lyric had it been buried mid-album, on a release that wasn’t five years in the making) let it be that Turner would be doing himself, his band and their fans a massive disservice if he followed down the path that The Strokes tread almost twenty years ago.
Playing the first of two massive Sydney shows at Qudos Bank Arena, the little band from High Green, Sheffield went about delivering a set so evenly spread and poised that it left you wondering why Alex Turner and co would ever have contemplated wanting to be like Julian Casablancas and co.
Opening the night was Mini Mansions. An amalgamation of Queens of The Stone Age and The Last Shadow Puppets, the four-piece well and truly delivered the goods in a swift and hearty forty minute main support slot. Entering the stage to Buddy Holly’s “Everyday” was a masterstroke in itself before they settled into a set that stretched across both of their two studio albums, as well as new single “Gummybear”. Seemingly borrowing the pastel colours and clothing Arctic Monkeys wore on their AM album cycle, set highlights included the incredibly catchy “Death Is A Girl” and closer “Mirror Mountain” (featuring a guest hit of the skins from Matt Helders). “Mirror Mountain” has all the steeze you’d expect from a world conquering song and band, so I’m surprised Mini Mansions haven’t had the impact you’d expect.
I’ve noticed that in the press and touring of Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, the band, especially Turner and Helders, have been speaking, acting and playing like they don’t have anything else to prove; nor do they want to prove anything. They’ve done away with the ridiculous greasy haircuts, and strange bravado that was included in their AM phase. While they’ve kept wearing, for the majority, their rock star suits, 2019 Arctic Monkeys is a fabled beast you have to truly witness to believe.
As an album that wasn’t overly receptive to being played in a live setting, the band have done real well to limit the number of tracks from Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino in their setlist. By no means are they bad songs, but when you compare songs live “Science Fiction” and “Star Treatment” to the brutal “Brianstorm”, well they never really stood a chance of standing out. With that in mind, “Four Stars out of Five” is an absolute tune, while the subtleties of “One Point Perspective” are exemplified ten fold when delivered by a sprawling Turner.
Naturally, the biggest moments of the night came from fan favourites like main set closer “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor”, the cataclysmic “505” and “Teddy Pickers”, while the thumping and completely minding bending “Do I Wanna Know?” was the only song of the night where everyone in the crowd got on their feet to experience the slinky and brute force of the song’s guitars.
For a band that are now six albums deep, you’re obviously going to be hard pressed to hear every song you’d want to hear them play. Once set staples and guaranteed floor fillers, early tracks like “Fluorescent Adolescent”, “Mardy Bum” or “When The Sun Goes Down” were nowhere to be seen, as they were replaced by Humbug slow-burners “Crying Lightning” and “Pretty Visitors”. And here lies the beauty of what Arctic Monkeys are as a band. Having released an ever reliable and bullet proof back catalogue like they have, the band could play ten entirely different sets and you’d still leave entirely satisfied with what they’re delivering. The band are at the point in their career that they have nothing left to prove, and while they still turn it on for fans who’ve paid plenty to see them, it’s evident that they’re playing what they want to play. They’re not phoning it in at all, but have lost that aspect of their stage presence that was seemingly a facade hiding what they really want to be. No longer are Arctic Monkeys the awkward teens that told everyone to not believe the hype, and they definitely no longer have that staged arrogance that followed them around on AM. 2019 Arctic Monkeys are quite possibly the truest form of the band.
The set itself was well weighted, with plenty of rapid fire tracks (like “Library Pictures” and “Arabella”) and just as many heart felt ballads (like the brilliant “Cornerstone” and “No. 1 Party Anthem”). Matched with the closing raucousness of “R U Mine?”, you’d be disappointed if you heard anyone leave the venue feeling as if they’d been let down by the.
While I do look forward to the day that the band tours playing only their first two albums front to back ( it won’t happen), I’m more than happy to acknowledge that what Arctic Monkeys are doing currently, and have been doing for almost 15years now, is still groundbreaking. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but in reality, it shouldn’t have to be. Not even The Strokes’.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The reviewer attended the first Sydney show on Friday March 1.
Feature image from our Melbourne show photo gallery by Rebecca Houlden, found HERE