The rules for the evening are simple: no cellphones, no recording, and no preconceived notions except for a few. Arctic Monkeys are back in New York City, playing a headline show for the first time since 2018, and since they’ve teased tracks from their upcoming album ‘The Car’, in the month leading up to the show, there’s a chance lucky sold-out ticket holders are about to experience new songs live for the first time that only their memory will play witness to.
Moments after the band walks onto the stage to the applause of 3,000 punters, the mood is set. “Don’t get emotional, that ain’t like you / Yesterday’s still leaking through the roof”, Alex Turner sings to the delight of onlookers. It’s the first time the band has performed the song live, yet the audience sings along to every word of ‘There’d Better be A Mirroball’, hitting each note of the sultry track as if it’s a worn-in single. As the track’s title rings through the historic theatre at the final refrain, a massive disco ball lowers from the ceiling, transforming the Brooklyn venue with the flickering lights of a ’70s lounge.
Their most recent shows have largely been festival sets, and by the looks of the smiles Turner exchanges with bandmates Matt Helders, Jamie Cook, and Nick O’Malley, they’re happy to be playing to a room of their own die-hard fans. The crowd, ready to time travel to the band’s earliest hits and hopefully sink their ears into unreleased sounds, responds ecstatically to each moment. As the opening keys of ‘Tranquility Base…’s ‘One Point Perspective’ play, fans sway in unison, and the band grins from ear to ear.
As ‘Snap Out Of It’ kicks off, it’s safe to say the band could go on without performing any new tracks, and the audience would be happy to play along. ‘AM‘ era hits, ‘Arabella’ and ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High’, light up the audience before ‘The Ultracheese’ sparks delight. But the real treats comes next, as the band rolls out another new track.
“So predictable, I know what you’re thinking”, Turner accuses in the slow-burning guitar-backed, ‘Body Paint’. “Still a trace of body paint around your legs, your arms, and your face,” he sings. At the close, he reiterates the name of the song, a warning shot of what could be the next single in ‘The Car’ era.
The forward-facing moment quickly falls backwards into ‘Brianstorm’, ‘Potion Approaching’ and ‘That’s Where You’re Wrong’, distracting fans with the Monkeys’ stacked discography before there’s time to overthink the new track. ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ goes off like a firework, shooting through the cathedral-esque ceilings the moment the opening guitar riffs are recognized.
‘I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am’, a fresh track from ‘The Car’ the band has only played a handful of times is met with familiarity in the tight-knit crowd. Next, in a surprise moment, the band throws ‘From the Ritz to The Rubble’ to the setlist, with Turner saying “We weren’t planning on doing this one,” right before it begins. The night seems to peak at ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’ and ‘R U Mine?’ towards the end of the set, but those high-octane moments are quickly overshadowed once the band comes back to the stage for the encore.
Standing alone, with only a spotlight and keys to keep him company, Tuner introduces ‘Mr Schwartz’ for the first time, a steadily building ballad with stirring visuals of “dancing shoes” and “velvet suits”, and the keen awareness that there’s “not one Goddamn thing you can do.” Before the final curtain call, the band turns the typical upbeat encore on its head, leaving fans with the heartfelt humming tracks ‘Cornerstone’ and ‘505’ before walking away.
The evening feels like evidence of a few truths. The first being that without cellphones, you can convince a crowd to be present for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The second being that through their discography, the Sheffield band have slowly embodied a sort of timelessness, not just in their homages to retro sounds, but in the way each era of their music, with its unmatched lyricism and refusal to rest on its laurels, somehow connects to seamlessly to the next.
The paramount truth, however, is that despite the earnest desire of some fans and critics for them to lean back into the sounds of their bygone eras, the band is highly skilled at evolving while also paying respect to their roots. Not a soul witnessing these special moments could say any different.
Arctic Monkeys played:
‘There’d Better Be a Mirrorball’
‘One Point Perspective’
‘Snap Out of It’
‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’
‘Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino’
‘That’s Where You’re Wrong’
‘Do I Wanna Know?’
‘I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am’
‘From the Ritz to the Rubble’
‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’
‘R U Mine?’
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