In the 21st century, the growth of hip-hop and the rise of EDM have left rock in an awkward spot. While it still holds a crucial place within the music industry, there are few bands who have continued to preach the rock gospel to new audiences. Arctic Monkeys is one of those few, standing tall thirteen years after their debut album, as the exception to rock’s declining popularity. After the jet-fuelled thrill ride that was 2014’s AM, the Arctic Monkeys took a four-year hiatus before returning with last year’s Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino. The album slowed everything down, with singer Alex Turner exploring more virtuosic song-writing. For anyone who had reservations about how this drastic evolition would translate into their live shows, the current Arctic Monkeys tour provides proof that the band can still wind back the clock to tap into that turbo charged energy, delivering a true rock show.
In the pitch black of Qudos Bank Arena on March 2, with thousands of fans beaming with excitement, there was a stillness in the air, drawn from the multitude of expectations around the first track. After nearly five years since last touring Sydney, the Arctic Monkeys would only ever get one opener. The iconic riff of ‘Do I Wanna Know’ cracked out over the arena like a starting pistol before the crowd returned with a thunderous uproar. Some bands slow down after reaching the heights of AM, morphing into more studio focussed groups. While their latest album did this, the band themselves clearly don’t want to slow down when touring the world. Opening with ‘Do I Wanna Know’ was Arctic Monkey’s way of reminding the thousands in attendance of who they are. The slow yet powerful song embodies the stadium rock sound that took the Arctic Monkeys a decade on top of the industry to perfect. Every song that followed matched this intensity. The set-list was a delicately curated collection of their greatest hits.
Despite the band’s music having evolving so much from their debut album in 2006, the band has modernised every song from their previous five albums into the current, live sound. The intense energy and fast paced guitar of 2006’s ‘I Bet That You Look Good on the Dancefloor’ was matched with 2019 Alex Turner’s smoother vocals. The stellar storytelling in 2009’s ‘Cornerstone’ was imbued with the soulful emotion of the latest album, but delivered with Turner’s showmanship, a nonchalant grandeur that has developed after a decade of selling out stadiums. The set-list included some sleeper hits from the depths of their albums. ‘Dancing Shoes’, ‘Library Pictures’ and ‘Fireside’ are relatively unknown, but Arctic Monkeys performed these songs at such a time and in such a way that everyone reacted positively.
With the setlist including songs from every one of their albums the band’s evolution meant few sounded out of place. However, it must be noted that songs from the new album, in particular the title track ‘Tranquillity Base Hotel and Casino’ and opener ‘Star Treatment’, were met with a noticeable groan from the crowd. But we’re not at The Enmore anymore, where the Arctic Monkeys first played Sydney in 2006. A stadium show such as this requires a variety of pace, and allow the band a breather. We shouldn’t be surprised, however, if the next time the Arctic Monkeys come around, these songs too sound different; it’s easy to see the band tweaking and refining them in later years like so many older songs were for this concert. Taking everything that worked from their huge library while subsequently trimming the fat, the band has gone from rough diamonds to refined jewels. They are at their peak right now. The latest album revealed the artistic depth the band are capable of, but by staying active they have only improved as musicians.
While Alex Turner can’t jump the octave in the final crescendo of ‘505’, Matt Helders’s drumming on ‘Brianstorm’ and ‘Teddy Picker’ can still rival a nuclear reactor in terms of energy output. Although he isn’t the quiet little boy from Sheffield, on-stage in cotton trackies and a hoodie, Alex Turner can still melt hearts in ‘Cornerstone’. Guitarist Jamie Cook will entrance and hypnotise with his guitar solos, while bassist Nick O’Malley will make it look easy. They are one of the best rock bands of the 21st century and their time since the sudden explosion of AM has only allowed them to refine what makes them so good. Before sending the audience off into the night with one final shot of adrenaline in ‘R U Mine’, Turner, a man of few words, summed up the experience.
“What a thrill.”