Amid the graves of the rich and famous, AM stage a glorious resurrection.
Meet us at the cemetery gates, as Alex Turner and friends raise the dead with a storming Hollywood gig.
Arctic Monkeys Hollywood Forever Cemetery, los Angeles Saturday, 5 May, 2018
Even Alex Turner cannot escape the humdrum of a working Monday morning. At 10am in his local Hollywood diner, he orders a black coffee en route to the first day of the fifth week of rehearsals. Arctic Monkeys’ live comeback is 10 days away, ahead of the release of their sixth LP, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. Guitarist Jamie Cook waits by the bar as Turner slides into a booth. “I don’t think that’s something I’ve been able to say before: fifth week of rehearsals,” he ponders. “I don’t ever remember rehearsing this much in the past.” Arctic Monkeys haven’t played a show since Rio de Janeiro in November 2014. “Which is a while!” laughs Turner. “We wanted to be sure we gave ourselves enough time to quite literally get the act together. There’s a desire to change how we present everything.” Last time around, the quartet’s fifth album, AM, elevated them from “best band in Britain” into one with their sights set on world domination. Its fusing of stadium rock and R&B grooves finding a home in Top 10s the planet over. A hiatus followed. Turner busied himself in his LA studio, co-writing and producing singer-songwriter Alexandra Savior’s debut LP. He made another Last Shadow Puppets album with fellow ex-pat Miles Kane, and toured that. “Matthew went on the road with Iggy,” he says referring to drummer Matt Helders’s stint playing with Josh Homme and Iggy Pop. “The other guys have not been playing shows, but they’re no rustier than we are.” Come the night of their live return, there is no sign of rust at the gates of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The band’s chosen venue is the final resting place of Cecil B DeMille and Johnny Ramone, but tonight it’s the site for the defrosting of Arctic Monkeys. Turner dresses for the occasion in head-to-toe black, his shoulder-length hair framing either side of his face. He looks like Sheffield’s own Dracula, freshly crawled out of a nearby mausoleum. “Raise the dead, be-beh,” he hams up to the crowd dancing among the tombs. The most immediate sign of how they’re presenting things differently is the number of bodies onstage. Tame Impala’s Cameron Avery and Tyler Parkford of Mini Mansions join Turner, bassist Nick O’Malley, Cook and drummer Matt Helders, making the group’s sound deeper, beefier and more widescreen than ever. It kicks off with a flash of black and red lighting, then the opening notes of the album’s lead single, Four Out Of Five. It’s the first of three new songs from Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino that receive their debut outings this evening. All three are met with silence as fans, unsure of what to expect,
hold their phones up desperate to capture them. The new album is seemingly a concept piece set in a bar on the moon, so on Four Out Of Five – a woozy collision of Bowie and The Beatles that could double as a warped Bond theme – Turner immediately invites the crowd to join him in an imaginary taqueria up there. “Lunar surface on a Saturday night,” he croons, while switching between piano and microphone. “It got rave reviews/Four stars out of five!” There’s a reinvigorated freedom to Turner’s onstage persona – less of the OTT posturing that became part of AM’s live shtick, something more natural about his movements. If he was acting the part of the weirdo rockstar on AM, he’s now comfortably set into it, dumping the Americanised affectation he adopted and rediscovering his hometown accent. “Good evening, ’ollywood,” he says, Yorkshire vowels firmly back in place.
The rest of the Monkeys, as is tradition, never address the crowd. Instead, they mooch like lounge lizards around Turner’s maître d’. Cook resembles Patrick Swayze in Point Break, with locks flowing way past his shoulders, swaying his guitar like he’s balancing on a wave. O’Malley could be a younger Jack White, moodily picking his bass. Matt Helders remains reliably Matt Helders, thwacking his kit at Turner’s back in T-shirt and jeans, with short back and sides. The taster of new material might not immediately hit home for the crowd, but the rest sends them wild, as the band build a setlist that acts as a scrumptious, hits-laden pick’n’mix from every one of their previous five albums. Turner makes full use of the stage, stalking the sides, squatting down and charming the front rows, retreating to the middle to have a sit-down on the keys. The Nick Caveesque points and Jarvis Cocker-y poses are reserved for choice moments. On the colossal thump of Don’t Sit Down ’Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair he wags his finger at the audience like he’s telling them off. During Crying Lightning’s dirty stoner rock he mimes taking a bite while wrapping his lips around the line “as she bit into her strawberry lace”. Despite the confidence,
he does suffer one nervous jitter, fluffing a line on the second verse of A View From The Afternoon. That minor slip up aside, the band never appear remotely phased by the anticipation for their return. They’ve come armed with a catalogue that shows why, over a decade in, Arctic Monkeys are still the most exciting game in town. It doesn’t feel nostalgic, it feels dangerous. The doe-eyed ’ 60s pop melodies of The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala make way for Brianstorm’s explosive, moshpit-inducing surf punk. There’s a psychedelic wig-out for Humbug’s Pretty Visitors and some doo-wop harmonising on One For The Road. More latter-day crowd-pleasers come from Do I Wanna Know? and Knee Socks, the crowd so excited they even sing the guitar riffs. There’s even a rare outing of B-side You’re So Dark, which gets air-punching responses from the more completist followers. This deep dive into their history is proof that Arctic Monkeys never got too comfy in any one lane. They’re not about to start now, either. The other two new tracks unveiled this evening are a heavy, bass-driven She Looks Like Fun featuring Turner bizarrely singing: “Cheeeeese-burgerrrr! Snoooow-boarding!”, and One Point Perspective, which is a theatrical – almost Broadway-esque – stream of consciousness. On the latter, Turner speak-sings, “Bear with me, man, I lost my train of thought.” The remaining bars play out as he stands with his back to the crowd, conducting his fellow players. Despite the increased personnel onstage, tonight, it really is Turner’s show. Waltzing around like a randy jaguar, he crawls out of Snap Out Of It and introduces a “song about a search for a lover”. The acoustic lament of Cornerstone is met with hysteria, as men and women sigh at Turner’s thwarted attempts at romance. “You’re the best fucking band,” shouts one onlooker. “Nice one,” says Turner in acknowledgment. He introduces I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor and the cemetery turns riotous. Before the encore, the LA crowd call for their return with a chorus of “Olé! Olé! Olé!” Turner reappears, teasing them: “Ah’ve only got one question left to ask you, ’ollywood.” R U Mine? closes out. Turner blows a smooch to the front row. The fictional taqueria may get four stars out of five, but this evening, Sheffield’s finest go one better.
It’s a scrumptious, hits-laden pick’n’mix from every one of their albums.
Alex Turner points the way forward (p98).
Keys to the kingdom: Turner (Matt Helders, to the rear) takes a pew.
Grave on: (from left) Monkeys fans gather at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery; getting ready to rock in the front row.
Arctic Monkeys: “still the most exciting game in town.”