BRISBANE RIVERSTAGE, WEDNESDAY JANUARY 11, 2023
It's Wednesday night and the palpable buzz in the air for Arctic Monkeys' first Australian tour since 2019 is akin to any given weekend evening. Scanning the crowd, tonight's sold out show leans heavily towards the young. It's encouraging to realise a band like this can still reach new listeners and in a big way, it seems! They know every song - new and old - word for word, and let's be real for a moment, they don't complain about how Arctic Monkeys haven't "released a good banger" since AM, the band's monster album release and last commercial peak from ten years ago. For this writer though, there's no surpassing the early stuff, it still feels real, rawer and less contrived, granted there's a lot of nostalgia attached to that opinion, how could there not be, but let's allow the experts to do what they do, grow and do what they want do, shall we?
Admirably, the band has taken some huge creative strides and left-turns throughout their career, considerbaly shifting their sound from album to album. Early adopters have heard it all by now, the sonic changes from second record, Favourite Worst Nightmare, to the Josh Homme-produced desert rock of Humbug gave detractors their first round of ammunition and that certainly wasn't the last. It's easy to argue, however, that they've not actually set a foot wrong in their 17 years or so of public consciousness - they're still standing strong and, as it appears, they're not deterring anyone.
Regardless, one gets the feeling the band have heard all the feedback and, between tours, have perfected walking the line that satiates their own creative integrity and an obvious audience alike. The evidence is in all in tonight's setlist. Somehow fittingly, Barry White's 'I'm Gonna Love You Just A Little More Baby' plays through the seductive lighting while the lads slip onto stage and take their positions. Tonight's setlist is modified, differing a little from the rest of the tour so far. Tonight, the band opt to draw their weapons and come out firing with the powerful 1-2 clout of 'The View From The Afternoon' (for the first time since 2014) and 'Brainstorm', a pair of hectic percussive songs that put drummer Matt Helders through his paces nice and early. Lyrically, the themes of the opener appear to address the situation on hand - "Anticipation has a habit to set you up / For disappointment in evening entertainment but..." They're clever words Turner offered at the beginning of his career and they apply once again to the band - enter with an open mind and control your preconceived anticipations until you see the show.
Big numbers from their back catalogue ease the crowd in gently - 'Snap Out Of It', 'Crying Lightning' and 'Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair' move from one to the next seamlessly - and a song from just about every album appears before something new.
'Sculptures Of Anything Goes' from their latest release The Car has been opening this tour so far, but is played sixth. Its ominous, funeral-paced execution is darker in tone, but slips in effortlessly. So far so good.
It's the newer material which appears to provide the most comfort for Alex Turner. He's no longer the pimply, awkward teenager in 2023 and he's exactly where he should be. His name is on everyone's lips despite the fine performance the whole band is giving. "He is one suave motherfucker, isn't he?" is just one of the comments overheard, from a more senior woman on the outer edges of the crowd, no less. She isn't wrong - the dapperly suited Turner is the consummately restrained frontman, simultaneously evoking Cave and Lennon while retaining his own unique demeanour. Onstage, he fronts an outfit which swells beyond the core four which he co-founded with Helders, guitarist Jamie Cook and bassist Nick O’Malley to include an extra guitarist, a couple of keyboardists and a percussionist. The additional personnel is an opportunity for Turner to occasionally put down his guitar and execute his frontman persona properly, a work in progress that has evolved over the years, yet somehow retains the charming awkwardness present since inception. He slows his vocals down on tracks like 'Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?', seemingly demonstrating doleful and clearly enunciated melodies as perhaps his new preference, different but not too distant from the lyrically-crammed observations of old.
The setlist continues to cater for all, however, and the old dominates the new. "I wanna tell you about a girl", another Nick Cave reference from Turner as he announces 'Arabella'. Favourite Worst Nightmare's 'Pretty Visitors' is a surprise inclusion and is played at breakneck speed while, in contrast, the same album's 'Cornerstone' is marvellous and tonight's truly romantic inclusion. In a live setting, the difference in the band's material is clear, the sheer amount of space given within the new songs is in direct contrast to older stuff. 'There'd Better Be A Mirrorball', for example, perhaps best displays this (sidenote - yes, there is a mirrorball present tonight) and is arguably the highlight of the set. Its precise vocal, introductory instrumental stabs conducted by Turner and sweeping cinematic widescreen approach is the consummate slow-burn. "Don't get emotional", he sings, perhaps good advice as the song slowly steals the show within the band's discography. It's offered the perfection complimentary position between the sinful swagger of 'Do I Wanna Know' and 'Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino', which fares better in its slot tonight than it did on the last tour.
To hear 'Pretty Visitors', 'Teddy Picker', 'From The Ritz To The Rubble' and 'I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor' all together is utterly incredible but an entirely different band. The response is above and beyond, but the extremity of roars from the crowd doesn't dissipate for 'Body Paint', a The Car highlight, that in its live state is a heightened, arena-sized monster. It closes out the main set, quickly flanked by another new song, 'Big Ideas', receiving its tour debut tonight first up in the encore. '505' has recently become something of a TikTok hit and, thankfully, has made its way back into their set, while 'R U Mine?' predictably provides the finale in a glorious flex of musicianship and stagecraft.
Whether playing the rowdy punk teenager, sophisticated rock god or welcoming cigar bar host, the band are closing the obvious and diverse differences in their catalogue. Tonight's 90 minute set fares far more cohesively than ever before and the guys don't set a foot wrong. They're still playing more songs from AM than they are The Car or even Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino which goes a way to demonstrate how much they care about you, the audience. It does, however, feel a bit like compromise. The sheer beauty and close attention injected into the songs on The Car is much deserved of something more, their own performance perhaps. Even the reputation of Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino could improve from something more. The rapid growth and evolution of the band, not to mention the consistency of success they retain, is astounding. Tonight's performance is, frankly, stunning. It's near-on flawless display of the sonic exploration that continues to provide a sense of discovery with every album they release. That's what fuelled the greats before them and that's what gives Arctic Monkeys a shot at achieving incredible longevity.
Five stars out of five.
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Play the setlist on Spotify below...