The Arctic Monkeys woke up early – early for rock stars, that is – to play in the Red Bull Sound Space at KROQ this past Tuesday.
It was a six-song set, which was preceded by a brief Q-and-A with the band led by KROQ DJ Ted Stryker. The band fumbled through the interview, eyes half closed, seeming a bit out of it, a side effect of being forced to rise while the sun was still out. Any grogginess, however, subsided as the band launched into its set with “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” off of “AM,” its fifth studio album that was released in September.
Without a doubt, “AM” has the Arctic Monkeys playing its hardest rock to date. In a live setting, “Arabella,” the album’s fourth track, comes across as equal parts Elton John and Black Sabbath, a powerful combination that saw the audience swaying one moment and head-banging the next.
The days of poppier songs like “From the Ritz to the Rubble” and “Mardy Bum” are long gone, and in their place, the indie godfathers have transformed into something darker, harder. Where once they were the musical equivalent of a machine gun, they are now more akin to a switchblade – less brash but equally deadly.
The small venue of KROQ’s Red Bull Sound Space created a truly unique experience for the show’s attendees. “It’s a bit eerie, I can see each and every one of you. Don’t worry, you look great today,” said frontman Alex Turner to the fans between songs “One For the Road” and “Snap Out of It.” Throughout the show, he would chime in on conversations in the crowd, a true testament to the intimacy of the space.
The Yorkshire foursome have come a long way from the twitchy Brit-poppers we met back in the “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not” days. After five or so years of learning the art of rock ‘n’ roll machismo under the tutelage of Queens of the Stone Age’s Joshua Homme, the boys are back with high and tight haircuts, tattoos and a swagger to match. Turner is almost unrecognizable, having turned in his hoodies and shaggy hair for tight black slacks, a pompadour and a barely buttoned dress shirt.
The old rigid stances and syllable-stuffing vocals were left in the dust of their Joshua Tree recording studio as well, now replaced by sleeker, adult-oriented content and slow ballads with ironic names like “No. 1 Party Anthem.”
The combination of Turner’s new look and the album’s themes of 3 a.m. booty calls and loveless dance halls had female members of the audience squirming, envying the frontman’s vintage Fender Strat as he slowly hip-thrusted to the beat, like a Cockney Elvis Presley.
The set was ended with “R U Mine,” a single released last year on Record Store Day. Deeply reflective of the band’s new direction, it served as a perfect bookend, sending a crowd of smiling faces back out into the afternoon sun at the corner of Venice and Fairfax.