Every once in a while, a young whippersnapper forms a band and writes songs that are far beyond his years. We've seen it with Isaac Brock; we've seen it with Conor Oberst; most recently, we've seen it with Alex Turner. When Turner was 19, his band, Arctic Monkeys, saw their first album, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, become the fastest-selling debut album in British history. Last weekend, at the ripe old age of 21, he showed Tucsonans why.
Against sharp, jabbing guitars and a funky rhythm section, Turner alternated between a wordy, almost rapped narrative style that detailed urban life on the British streets (and owes much to the Streets' Mike Skinner), and a more traditional crooning voice that often delved into call-and-response chants. During the slinky ska groove of "Fake Tales of San Francisco," from Whatever People Say I Am, when Turner intoned in his Yorkshire accent, "I don't want to hear you, no," the bouncing crowd happily shouted back, "Kick me out, kick me out!"
The band were agreeably more noisy and abrasive live than on their two studio albums, and while it might seem silly to comment in 2007 on how great the lighting was at a rock show, the lighting was great, delivering everything from halo effects to a setup that rendered everything in pseudo black and white to the usual seizure-inducing strobes.
While Turner may be the one (rightfully) reaping the accolades for Arctic Monkeys' success, the group's unsung hero is bassist Nick O'Malley (and, before him, ex-Monkey Andy Nicholson). If it weren't for those funky bass parts, Arctic Monkeys' music might just sound like a retread of The Jam or The Clash; as it is, they elevate the band's songs to memorable and danceable status à la Gang of Four. The groove is the visceral thing that draws you in, while Turner's smarts keep you there. During their 70-minute set (no encore), Arctic Monkeys surely muzzled any naysayers who would write them off as a flash in the pan.
Unfortunately, like a lot of my fellow concertgoers, I missed the opening set from Austin, Texas' Voxtrot almost entirely. I arrived on time, but while the publicized showtime was 8 p.m., the actual starting time was apparently 7:30. If I hadn't already seen them perform a couple of times, I may have been just as upset about missing them as those many attendees I spoke to, who were none too pleased.