If any more proof was needed that AM is a career highlight for Arctic Monkeys, the fact that the crowd Tuesday night met every new song with the same if not greater enthusiasm as the hits should provide it.
By Adam Ellsworth
Arts Fuse review of Arctic Monkeys’ new album AM.
Earlier this month, Arctic Monkeys member Alex Turner said he wasn’t interested in playing guitar onstage during the band’s upcoming concerts.
Not exactly as newsworthy as the ongoing situation in Syria, but his statement still gave me pause. I don’t understand, I thought. He’s a guitar player.
He’s also the band’s singer, so it’s not like he’d have nothing to do up onstage without his guitar. And, if we’re being honest, it’s the band’s other guitarist, Jamie Cook, who provides the true live fret magic. Still, the proposition didn’t seem right.
But after watching Turner perform one and a half songs at Paradise without his guitar Tuesday night, I am now a convert to his way of thinking. In fact, I think Turner should stop playing guitar onstage altogether. It’s not that he’s bad at it; it’s that there are precious few people in the world who can do what he does as a pure frontman.
Tuesday night started with “Do I Wanna Know?” the opening track from the band’s newly released fifth album, AM. Turner had his guitar strapped on, but the song belonged to drummer Matt Helders and his steady, pounding beat. Fashion isn’t normally the first thing I notice at a rock show (or sometimes even the last thing I notice), but props must go to Helders for his t-shirt and Adidas track pant combo. I don’t blame him, as he covers a lot of ground on his kit throughout the night, and comfort is important, it’s just hard not to notice the Adidas track pants when his bandmates are decked out in jackets and slacks. While we’re on the subject of fashion, I’d like to go on record saying that Alex Turner’s quiff is the best thing to happen to rock and roll since Bono’s fly shades.
“Brianstorm” from the band’s sophomore album Favourite Worst Nightmare followed. This established the pattern for the rest of the night: new songs followed by old favorites without skipping over any of the band’s five albums. Surprisingly, the least represented album was the band’s most iconic release, their debut Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. Only “Dancing Shoes” and “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” made the setlist from that album. Even in front of such a partisan crowd, they kind of have to play the latter, which they’ve long since outgrown. That doesn’t stop it from being one of the greatest rock songs of this century though, and therefore always welcome.
If any more proof was needed that AM is a career highlight for the band, the fact that the crowd Tuesday night met every new song with the same if not greater enthusiasm as the hits should provide it. The album’s “R U Mine?” “Do I Wanna Know?” and “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?,” have all been released as singles, so were naturally greeted ecstatically, but so were “Snap Out of It,” “Arabella,” “Knee Socks,” and “One for the Road.”
“Arabella” ended up being the absolute highlight of the set, partly because its mix of hip hop beats and Sabbath riffage makes it the quintessential “This is What Arctic Monkeys Sound Like in 2013” song, but mostly because it was the first time all night Turner put down his guitar and took on the frontman role he was obviously born to play. During the three and a half minute performance of the song, Turner channeled Elvis, Jagger, Bono, and Snoop Dogg. It was shockingly brilliant. He’s still got a while to go before he can truly be placed in their company, but if he puts down that guitar a little more often…
Turner started the next song, “Pretty Visitors,” without his guitar (and introduced Tom Rowley, the band’s onstage hired gun, as the guy who was picking up his slack, in addition to playing just about every other instrument ever invented), which allowed him to (very literally) act out the line, “All the pretty visitors came and waved their arms.” When he picked his guitar back up for the second half of the song, it was a disappointment, but all was forgotten once he introduced the next song, “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor.”
The setlist primarily focused on the heavier side of Arctic Monkeys’ sound from “Teddy Picker” to “Brick by Brick” as well as their more rhythmic side from “Dancing Shoes” to the songs from AM, but “Cornerstone” and “Suck it and See” provided some lighter, more melodic moments. Right before “Cornerstone,” Turner took out a comb and fixed his quiff. He wasn’t doing it for show, but he wasn’t hiding it either. It was one of the most fantastically in your face “I’m a rock star, ya know” things I’ve ever seen.
“Knee Socks” followed those two palate cleansers with guitar stabs from Jamie Cook and funk bass from Nick O’Malley. O’Malley is so important to what the Monkeys do no matter what style of music they’re playing, and he doesn’t get nearly enough credit. Always solid.
“You know, I just wanted to say that, I’m yours Boston,” Turner told the crowd before the final song of the main set. “The question is though…R U Mine, Boston??!!”
Not a very subtle introduction, but this is a man who combs his quiff onstage. Subtlety is not on the menu.
The band returned for AM’s “One for the Road” and two songs from Favourite Worst Nightmare, “Fluorescent Adolescent” and “505.” As the prominent placement of those last two songs attest, Arctic Monkeys still consider Favourite Worst Nightmare to be their crowning achievement. A few years from now though, don’t be too surprised if AM has usurped the throne.
Drowners opened the night with an energetic 30-minute set of Strokes-y rock. Keep an ear out for them. They’re one song away.
Arctic Monkeys played:
Do I Wanna Know?
Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair
Snap Out of It
Brick by Brick
Old Yellow Bricks
Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?
I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor
Suck it and See
R U Mine?
One for the Road
Adam Ellsworth is a writer, journalist, and amateur professional rock and roll historian. His writing on rock music has appeared on YNE Magazine, KevChino.com, Online Music Reviews, and Metronome Review. His non-rock writing has appeared in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, on Wakefield Patch, and elsewhere. Adam has a MS in Journalism from Boston University and a BA in Literature from American University. He grew up in Western Massachusetts, and currently lives with his wife in a suburb of Boston. You can follow Adam on Twitter @adamlz24.