From the opening chords to their last wave goodbye, The Arctic Monkeys had the Fox Theatre high and wanting more. Playing their first of two nights at the Oakland venue on Thursday, Sept 26, the band were in top form with Alex Turner the confident showman warming and winning Bay Area fans over again with a set list that included older favorites as well as new hits of their acclaimed fifth studio album, "AM".
Since he cut his locks and Brylcreemed his hair back, frontman, Turner has adopted a swagger that on stage informs everything he does – how he enunciates, wears his guitar and most definitely shakes his hips. And though some lament the lost of that boyish charm from the first two records that spawned many an anthem of the moment – “Mardy Bum”, “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor” and “Fluorescent Adolescent” just to name a few, what Bay Area fans were witnessing was an artist on his gradual but sure metamorphosis to rock god.
And the other band members, drummer Matthew Helders; bassist, Nick O’Malley; and guitarist, Jamie Cook were all in step with this ascent. Fans may have first fallen for the band’s fuzz-pop melodies and wry, observational lyrics, but in truth on stage tonight, the hard-hitting bassline of older tracks “Brianstorm” and “Teddy Picker” did not seem a thus far departure from the harder-edge rock of “AM”.
From their storied beginnings at local Sheffield club, The Boardwalk, the band have always enjoyed a good rock n’ roll knees-up. The influences highlighted in “AM” have always been there with the Arctic Monkeys, but now they aren’t afraid to show it.
Helders may have bought a drum kit because his two friends already picked guitars but in truth he was from the start a virtuoso hard-hitter on the drums, inspired by the likes of Black Sabbath. Cook is a longtime fan of Queens of The Stone Age and though he and Turner both got guitars the same Christmas, he became proficient quicker, choosing not to get distracted by falsetto-duties and just play his riffs. Not that Turner minds, his love for lyrical word-play and penchant for the rap of Roots Manuva and hip-hop of Dr Dre would serve him well. And while O’Malley was a late addition, he had been playing with local bands and was never far from the Monkey mafia.
Tonight their performance was a whole lot of hard rock with R & B influences of Dr Dre and 90s G-Funk from the big booming beats in the opening chords of “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” to the falsetto and bass combinations so favored by Josh Homme witnessed in “Knee Socks”. So when they opened with the “AM” slow hitter, “Do I Wanna Know?” if the audience were missing “Mardy Bum” and “Fake Tales of San Francisco” they had moved on, and by the chorus “…crawling back to you …” the whole packed-out mosh pit was pulsating with each beat, arms all raised, in an abandoned haze.
In the surf-guitar riffs of “Brianstorm” when Turner raises his hands, the whole pit like ‘they’ve been put under’ do it too. Perhaps trying to reach their god or in the least, imitate him. When Turner swaggers close to either side of the stage, the crowd is ecstatic. This energy is kept high through the many guitar changes that Turner takes for songs like “Don’t Sit Down Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair”; “Snap Out of It” where Turner, a baritone does the falsetto; and the “Humbug” favorite, “Crying Lightning”.
By the time the delicious B-side “Evil Twin” comes on, Turners’ pompadour coif starts to fall at the crest. He will take his comb out later to sweep it all back into place with the aplomb of a true greaser, but for now he concentrates on giving kudos to O’Malley’s uncompromising bass.
After “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High” Turner seems genuinely surprised that the crowd sing the last note “high” as loud as they do. “You liked that one? You look like you were having a good time,” he says to the floor, pleased with the affirmation that Arctic Monkeys made the right choice experimenting with an inspired change in direction.
With “Arabella” Turner relinquishes the guitar completely and is liberated to not bother with it. He moves freely, singing and indulging in fist-pumping, pulling some funky moves, even getting down on his knees at the altar of Cook’s guitar solo. While in the back, Helders too pays respect, taking a moment to play the drums standing up.
The tempo slows down with two songs on the acoustic guitar. “Cornerstone” which is utterly mesmerizing, reminding you why their slower ballads are so popular and “Number 1 Party Anthem”. Then they hit an all-time high with one of their biggest hits, “Fluorescent Adolescent”. After the falsetto-laden “Knee Socks” the band take their leave with Turner saying, “Thank you Oakland we’ve enjoyed playing for you.” They do return for an encore of three songs, finally ending on another high with “R U Mine?” Fittingly, this was the first single released and set the whole tone for their new direction. It has paid off on stage and in the charts where their fifth album has made a return to the US Top 10 after almost 7 years.
And when the house lights come on, fanatic hordes who want to bask in the reflected glory of their heroes pray for something to take home with them. Something more tangible than just a memory, even one captured on a mobile phone. Roadies pluck off the stage the individual set lists, fallen plectrums and Helders errant drumsticks, throwing them out to the grateful – relics that will forever be venerated by the true Arctic Monkeys devotee.
Arctic Monkeys North American tour continues in Los Angeles at The Wiltern (Sept 30, Oct 1), and Varsity Theatre (Oct 5).
Do I Wanna Know?
Don't Sit Down Cause I've Moved Your Chair
Snap Out of It
Old Yellow Bricks
Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?
I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor
No. 1 Party Anthem
One For The Road
Do Me A Favor
R U Mine?