If the idea of Arctic Monkeys doing a concept album about living on the moon caught you off guard, then it only takes until the second song at their third show back (May 5) to make you realise this is where they’ve been headed for a while now. With each record, they’ve gradually been moving further away from their Sheffield roots, and, in hindsight, ‘Arabella’ was the first sign they were going intergalactic. With its “interstellar gator skin boots” and “Barbarella silver swimsuits“, it’s almost the perfect segue way between 2013’s ‘AM’ and the imminent ‘Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino‘.
The band’s focus at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Forever cemetery isn’t so much on their adventures in new galaxies, though. They only play three new songs tonight – enough to whet your appetite for the album’s release next week, but not enough to spoil the surprise of what’s to come. There’s the lunar taqueria lounge act of set opener ‘Four Out Of Five’, in which frontman Alex Turner invites us to “take it easy for a little while/Come and stay with us/It’s such an easy flight” and take a seat at a piano for half the song. On ‘She Looks Like Fun’, the heaviest of the three new cuts, he veers between elegant croonerisms and opening up about how he spends his time (“I need to spend less time stood around in bars/Waffling on to strangers about martial arts“) over dramatic piano stabs. ‘One Point Perspective’, meanwhile, rides on strings and a swooning Turner guitar solo, as he admits to losing his “train of thought” – a line that cleverly leads to the song’s end as if he can’t even begin to pick up where he left off.
It’s been nearly four years since Arctic Monkeys have played live together, so it’s unsurprising that at some points they’re less than perfectly slick. During ‘The View From The Afternoon’, Alex appears to forget the words while Matt Helders’ beat feels off. Minor mistakes aside, though, this is a consummate Monkeys show – one that pulls from every corner of their back catalogue, including ‘You’re So Dark’, the b-side to ‘One For The Road’. On it, Alex shows he’s not beyond switching things up a little, changing the lyrics from “I want you down on all fours” to “following Goblin on tour“, referencing the Italian prog-rock band.
The setlist is a mix of songs designed to please both the casual fan and the ardent admirer, the likes of ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ (one of only two first album tracks tonight) eliciting almost as lairy a reaction as it would back home, while the likes of ‘Pretty Visitors’ offers something beefier. “I’ve only got one question left for you, ‘Ollywood,” Alex says two songs into the encore, as the band launch into a ferocious version of ‘R U Mine?’ A few steps away from the lawn the stage is erected on lies the Garden Of Legends, where stars like Johnny Ramone are buried. It feels like a more than fitting environment for them to play, their legend status already long secured and bound to become even stronger in this new era of the band.