“I’ve played to quiet rooms like this before,” Alex Turner sings languidly on Arctic Monkey’s louche, piano-led sixth album Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino. Its release marked a stark departure from the frantic, shreddy early records like Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not as well as the slick, snaking rock of their fifth album, AM. Here, Turner the rock star becomes Turner the aging crooner: a sadder, more embarrassing figure all together. Speaking to Pitchfork, Turner joked of playing this slouchier, more obscure material live: “It could well end up being a quiet room, yeah.” Then, they announced their first gig in the UK in four years wouldn’t be a stadium spectacle or a headline festival slot: it would be a charity gig at a classical music hub, the Royal Albert Hall in Kensington.
Opening with Tranquility’s closest thing to a banger, “Four Out Of Five”, Turner leaned in to his bingo hall persona: deliberately cheesy dad rocker moves on full display in a dark, mismatched suit. He kept it up all set – with his at first slicked-back hair falling in front of his face, he veered between karate stances, windmilling arms, bended knees and boxers’ fists. In a break in one song, he gave a panto call to the crowd: “Oh no – we’re gonna carry on!” Sitting at the keyboard for “Star Treatment” (the track’s live debut), he was lit solely by static spotlights, in perhaps the show’s most lounge-y moment. And in “One Point Perspective”, singing “Bear with me now – I’ve lost my train of thought”, Turner even hammily pretended to do just that, staring confusedly into the distance, shaking his head. There’s something deliciously funny about 30-year-old Arctic Monkeys fans, drenched in a heady mix of sweat and Stella, unironically bellowing lines like this back at the band of their teens.
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This character adds a deliberate tinge of staleness to Turner’s most greased-up, sexy songs – a funny, self-aware way to find the sadness in rock music. “Why Do You Only Call Me When You’re High?” more than ever paints a slightly pathetic picture of a man making the same coked-up calls on nights past their peak, after everyone else has moved on. (So, too, does the perfect, sad, punchline of “Cornerstone”.) They closed their encore with “R U Mine?”, and, after a pause so long it seemed the song had ended, Turner teased the audience with a slow, slurred acapella take on the line “She’s a silver lining / Lone ranger riding in an open space,” dragging the last word on for an eternity. Once the song actually had finished, Turner lingered longer than his bandmates on stage, meandering off with the dregs of a pint sloshing around in his hand.
But even as their recent material cast a new light over the stage, this also felt like something of a homecoming for a band who haven’t played live in the UK for nearly four years. They refused to shy away from old songs (their 20-song strong setlist only included four tracks from Tranquility). Introducing their debut single “I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor”, Turner used a turn of phrase from their early days: “We are Arctic Monkeys. Don’t believe the hype.” Fast and furious tracks like “Brainstorm” and “The View From The Afternoon” were the clear highlights for the audience, who seemed keen to set a new record for Number Of Mosh Pits Occurring At The Royal Albert Hall In A 75-Minute Period. When the band pulled out “Ritz to the Rubble” a fan-favourite from their first album that hasn’t been performed live in over seven years, pints flew like a meteor shower; beer seemed to rain non-stop from the ceiling. I started to genuinely fear for the safety of some at the low edges of the balcony. Not such a quiet room after all.