With his hair combed into an immaculate Teddy-boy coif and his hip popped to one side, Alex Turner mesmerized Oakland’s indie rock fans last Thursday night during the last of the Arctic Monkeys’ back-to-back gigs at the Fox Theater. Band’s latest triumph, AM, centered around Turner’s verbal dexterity and compelling vocals. Their live show followed the same formula. Band members Jamie Cook (guitar), Matt Helders (drums, vocals) and Nick O’Malley (bass, vocals) provided a piping-hot soundtrack to what was undoubtedly the Alex Turner Show.
After a somewhat lackluster performance by openers Mini Mansions, the Arctic Monkeys kicked off their two-hour set with AM opener “Do I Wanna Know?,” followed by the manic Favourite Worst Nightmare hit, “Brianstorm.” The setlist included tracks from all five of the band’s full-length albums as well as Suck It and See B-side “Evil Twin.” Surprisingly, they came all the way to the Bay Area and didn’t play “Fake Tales of San Francisco” — but perhaps that would have been too predictable.
Turner taunted the crowd at times, flipping out a comb and brushing his hair back, greaser style, just to hear the adoring screams. For the final song, he coaxed, “We are yours, Oakland, but the question is …” before bursting into a walloping rendition of “R U Mine?”
It doesn’t take much familiarity with the band’s back catalog to enjoy an Arctic Monkeys’ show. Turner is a storyteller above all else, and the stories he weaves with his lyrics are immediately captivating. From “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” to “Fluorescent Adolescent,” Turner painted a vivid picture of the failed booty calls and wistful reminiscences that pepper every one of the band’s albums. Late in the set, they took a break from the stadium-shaking tunes for a mellow two-part story of lonely love and hopeless devotion with “Cornerstone” and “No. 1 Party Anthem,” one of my favorite tracks off AM. It’s Turner’s ability to conjure up complete backstories in three or four verses that makes him one of the best lyricists in contemporary music.
The band kept banter to a minimum, opting instead for a straight drive through some of their best numbers. Each song performed seemed to top whatever had come before, and it was clear that the fact that they had already done the same show in the same venue the night before mattered little. These tracks didn’t need to be practiced. They were already embedded in the fingers of Cook and O’Malley, thumping in Helders’ chest, lining Turner’s throat. If there’s one band that is really and truly effortlessly cool, it’s the Arctic Monkeys.