Of all the many hairstyles Alex Turner has worn over the years, none have ever been as extreme as his latest. Tonight (July 24), Arctic Monkeys play their first show since their frontman shaved off his slicked-back Italian mobster ‘do, bringing buzzcut season to New York’s Forest Hills Stadium. Biblical figure Samson famously lost his strength when his hair was lopped off in his sleep but, if anything, Alex is more on form than ever as the Sheffield band kick off their latest US tour.
‘Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino‘ is just over two months old now and, through a series of festival appearances and select headline dates, the Monkeys’ new live shows is now as slick and well-oiled as you’d expect. Now, Alex has had time to work out where to add theatrical flourishes, when to pull out his high kicks to the best effect, and is clearly comfortable enough with the lyrics to add new ad-libs.
He gives us an immediate taste of the former as the set begins with ‘Four Out Of Five’. As he purrs the line “And you will not recognise the old headquarters”, playing his role of moon-based tourist board exec, he throws both hands up in the air and throws his head to the side as if the changes gentrification’s brought to the fictional Tranquility Base are too much for him to even try and express in words.
During ‘One Point Perspective’, he mimes out losing his train of thought, first momentarily, and then for longer as that line returns at the end, a searching look on his face as he mouths, “What am I talking about?” and holds his hands mid-air like the words he’s hunting for are just out of reach. As his bandmates bring the song to a close, he resigns himself to the fact this conversation’s over and turns away from the crowd. Some fans worried that ‘Tranquility Base…”s lack of bangers might negatively affect Arctic Monkeys’ shows, but moments like this prove that’s not the case – the band are just growing into more sophisticated performers now.
Older songs, too, get these fresh little touches. When Arabella “takes a dip in my daydreams” during the song of the same name, a vanilla suited Alex brings his hands together above his head and motions as if he’s about to jump into a swirling fantasy pool himself. When he describes the shadows on the snake pit wall in ‘Pretty Visitors’, he takes a pause to freestyle about the items decorating said wall, including a “Japanese movie poster.” It’s not just the frontman mixing things up, either – where ‘Brianstorm’ customarily breaks for a suspenseful silence, drummer Matt Helders slowly winds down his beats, bashing away until he grinds to a halt for a second before rattling back up again.
As the Monkeys disappear for their encore, a spinning black and white cube that looks like a humbug-striped version of the one in Astor Place, just the other side of the East River, is pushed on stage. When the band return, it lights up, gracefully whirling around as ‘Star Treatment’ hints at the big treat that’s in store.
“I just wanted to be one of The Strokes,” sighs Alex, but minutes later he gets to live out his dreams. “We wanted to do a New York special for you and since we couldn’t think of any tennis songs, we’ll try this,” he informs us. A faithful cover of the New Yorkers’ ‘Is This It’ follows and it seems the group leader gets a little lost in the moment. “What now?” he asks when it’s over. Once he’s regathered himself, he turns that into stage patter like a true professional. “Here’s the second question,” he says, teeing up ‘R U Mine?’ to bring an already impeccable gig to a ferocious end. Shaved hair or not, the answer is – as ever – a resounding yes.