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16th Sep 2018

Alex Turner continues to flip the script for the Arctic Monkeys each sold out night after sold out night

Kyle Picknell

The emperor is back with a new groove as the Arctic Monkeys move on to Sheffield for four more messianic homecoming shows

So this is it then, the new face of rock and roll, Franco Begbie skinhead and marmalade-tinted sunglasses. Open-shirt suit and heeled boots exaggeratingly kicking around the stage like a deranged Waluigi, a Nintendo villain looking for a princess to steal.

Turner’s widow’s peak, once the glacial edge beneath an Elvis-inspired quiff during the AM era, is now rubbed down to a finer point. It did at least provide the assurance of symmetry, lining up neatly with the microphone as the frontman moved from sitting to standing, eventually taking a precise centre stage position midway through opener ‘Four Out of Five’.

He was flanked unevenly, his three familiar comrades in arms and this season’s touring musicians offset, more hands on deck for that distinctive new sound you might have heard about.

Songs were notable for their absence. There is simply no time for ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’, boasting over 200,000,000 plays on Spotify (over 1000 years worth of Bingo hall euphemism); no space for the old, storied singalongs ‘A Certain Romance’, ‘When the Sun Goes Down’ and ‘Mardy Bum’ in the cluttered freneticism of it all.

The set comes and goes like a Dib Dab sugar rush. Giddy, momentous, fleeting. You’re left with just a vague sense of it all melting together rather than anything exact and the only pause for breath comes during those new songs you just don’t yet love quite as much as the old. In fact, there isn’t even a moment for Turner’s latest monosyllabic drawl to ooze through and fill the gaps like wet cement between brick.

Only their very best, the slow-build ecstasy of ‘505’, offers any real moment of clarity. It turns out the most important band of your youth might still be the most important band now, whatever the emperor’s new clothes, whatever his new groove.

Matt Helders, the gorilla drummer in a human suit, is unleashed only sparingly. It is telling that he plays all five cuts from Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino one-handed and almost lazily metronomic. Perhaps even more so that the chaos of the crowd, moshpits forming like sinkholes, returns to a comparative stupor each time he does. Still, there was the barnstorming, floor tom-thumping lunacy of ‘Brianstorm’ and the half-open hi-hat, scattershot snare drum intricacy of ‘Crying Lightning’ to put us all at ease.

As it happens, ‘Lightning’ brought Turner’s delightful showmanship to the fore too as he mimed along to his own delirious imagery, practicing magic tricks, conducting the crowd with a wand and chewing through the lyrics like strawberry laces, his own gobstopper thankfully as useless as prescribed.

Jamie Cook, meanwhile, continues to hide his guitar parts in the structure of it all, the scaffolding framework you are so used to you no longer notice. Even so, he appears to have absorbed some of Turner’s dynamism through osmosis, haunting his side of the stage like the ghost of Jack White on a comedown.

‘Pretty Visitors’ once again proves a self-fulfilling prophecy against their success, as the Instagram generation do come and throw their arms around and shout along to the infamous opening line of the second verse as though the colloquialism never died. There are no shadows of a snake pit on the walls though as the light is never quite bright enough from the neon ‘MONKEYS’ signage above the heads and the reflection in Turner’s glasses, perched on the tip of the nose now: a malevolent substitute teacher inspecting the classroom after interruption.

He remains a strutting, pelvis-thrusting force of nature through it all, however, stomping through the guitar-solos-for-intermediates interludes in ‘Dancing Shoes’ and ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’ with genuine enthusiasm before imitating the hip-swaying Los Angeles braggadocio required for the lovelorn AM hits ending in question marks. There was a time when he’d call you a “sexy little swine”. Now he probably wouldn’t even notice you at all.

The encore is telling, as all the pent-up chorus-teasing frustration of ‘Star Treatment’ explodes into the penultimate ‘Arabella’, the deliberate Ray Ban-lowering, cocktail-sipping head turn from a poolside lounger put to music. The Barbarella silver swimsuit has never looked, nor sounded, better.

‘R U Mine?’ finally arrives to bring proceedings to their inevitably raucous conclusion. It is over in an instant; a lightbulb popping with only the faint buzz of the opening riff left reverberating in the ears. The filament afterglow. London’s O2 arena slowly drains and down in the tube station ‘Mardy Bum’ rings out as the fans make their way home. Commuters ride the escalator up, up and away. Maybe there was time after all.