"Christmas" came early to fans that packed into New York's Terminal 5 for Arctic Monkey's sold out show Friday night (Dec. 11). During the breakdown of "Fluorescent Adolescent," one of the breezier songs from the night's set, drummer Matt Helders emerged from behind the kit, sat center stage and, after donning a pair of rock-star Ray Bans, belted out an emphatic and endearing rendition of "Last Christmas," the seasonal '80s hit by dynamic British duo Wham!
It may have been the first time that any other British musician has upstaged Alex Turner (the Monkeys' shaggy-haired heartthrob of a frontman) since the Sheffield, England band broke big in 2006. But the lanky band leader certainly didn't seem to mind sharing the attention for a few moments. After all, every bra, t-shirt, poster and other object of desire that was hurled onto the stage throughout the gig was aimed directly at him.
From the minute he swaggered onto the stage, Turner commanded the crowd's attention with cool, unwavering confidence and a raspy-voiced croon that belied his 23 years. Like many British frontmen of the moment, the singer has been heralded as something of a prodigy since the band's beginning; his lyrical prowess has often been compared to that of Morrissey, among other modern wordsmiths. But three albums into its career, the Arctic Monkeys have outlived the initial tidal waves of hype and are proving to have enough depth, dexterity and maturity to live up to the promise of their first recordings.
Like their recent album "Humbug," produced by Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme, the 90-minute show was a darker and more menacing affair than Arctic Monkeys delivered in their fast-and-frenzied teenage years. In fact, the obligatory early hits like "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor" almost seemed out of place against smoky and spooky new gems like "Potion Approaching," "My Propeller" and "Crying Lightning."
The band -- completed by guitarist Jamie Cook and bassist Nick O'Malley -- delivered a particularly haunting cover of Nick Cave's "Red Right Hand," while B-sides like the jumpy "Sketchead" and adventurous album cuts like "Do Me a Favour" and "505" (both from their underappreciated second album "Favourite Worst Nightmare") found their way onto the setlist over more radio-friendly fare like "Mardy Bum" -- which the crowd requested all evening, to no avail. Nevertheless, that didn't stop the throng of rambunctious 20-somethings smashed against the barricades from moshing and crowd surfing for almost the entire show, while more reserved guests -- like MTV Europe personality (and Turner's squeeze) Alexa Chung -- cheered the band on from the balcony.
Stilll, the Monkey's finest moment came during the performance of its current single "Cornerstone," a subtle, lovelorn ballad whose subtle guitar textures compliment Turner's poignant vocals and poetic turns of phrase ("She was close … enough to be your ghost/ But my chances turned to toast/ When I asked her if I could call her your name"). After building their name on rough-and-randy pub tunes about getting drunk and chasing tail, the band now shines brightest when they tone down the ruckus and allow their sober, carefully sculpted melodies to stand on their own.
"The Jeweller's Hands"
"This House is a Circus"
"Still Take You Home"
"Red Right Hand"
"I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor"
"The View from the Afternoon"
"If You Were There, Beware"
"Do Me a Favour"
"Fluorescent Adolescent" (w/ "Last Christmas")