The Arctic Monkeys performed at a sold-out LC Pavilion on Tuesday
As the Orwells' warm-up set wound down, singer Mario Cuomo offered up a few words of warning, saying, “We've got two more THEN THE BRITISH ARE COMING!”
When the Arctic Monkeys first emerged from Yorkshire in the mid-2000s, such proclamations were necessary. The group's live shows were scrappy and chaotic, and its songs mini post-punk whirlwinds, propelled by zigzagging riffs and frontman Alex Turner's mile-a-minute mouth. But on the group's fifth album, last year's AM, its sound slowed and thickened considerably, like a stew left to simmer for hours on the stove.
In turn, much of the group’s performance at a sold-out LC Pavilion on Tuesday appeared designed to spark action beneath the bed sheets rather than the dance floor. Songs like “Fireside” and the percussive “Do I Wanna Know?” throbbed and heaved, building on undulating bass, slinky guitar lines and Turner’s ever-cocksure croon.
The subject matter has likewise matured. So while Turner, who slicked his dark hair back into a 1950s-style pompadour, once imbued his songs with equal parts youthful lust (he sang of “dirty dance floors and dreams of naughtiness” on the band’s breakout tune, “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor”) and confusion (“I don’t know what you’re looking for”), he sounded more self-assured on newer tunes like “I Wanna Be Yours,” which left little doubt as to his intentions.
Of course, it appeared Turner rarely kept the girl, and there was an underlying loneliness detectible in even the group’s randiest tunes. “Knee Socks,” an eerie, R&B-stoked burner, opened as a would-be Penthouse Forum submission (“You’re kissing to cut through the gloom / With a cough drop-colored tongue”) before devolving into a treatise on heartache and the ways even the most passionate memories can exert the same slow, steady downward force as gravity.
The British quartet, augmented here by a touring keyboardist, employed simple-but-effective lighting that further highlighted the emotional contrasts in the music. On “Fireside” the stage glowed a muted red as Turner sang of a relationship whose embers had long-since turned cold; then, when the band ripped into a scruffy early tune, white lights crackled like heat lightning, echoing the song’s more tumultuous feel.
At times both the frontman and the music projected a similar air of menace. On “Crying Lightning" Turner hewed to the shadows while the band laid down a dark, creeping groove that spread through the venue like thick ivy. “Old Yellow Bricks” upped the volume — here the guitars growled and snarled like circling predators — while Turner set off on the chase, singing “You don’t know what you’re running from.” Given the frontman’s penchant for unflinching honesty, it's likely his secret won't remain so for long.