Numerous rock scribes have dubbed 22-year-old Alex Turner and 21-year-old Miles Kane as the future of British pop. But ironically, the Arctic Monkeys and Rascals frontmen (respectively) have spent much of the last year tipping their hats to the genre’s past.
The Last Shadow Puppets, the pair’s collaborative side project, owe as much to the Righteous Brothers as they do to Oasis’ Gallagher brothers. While each made his mark by composing edgy, modern-sounding Britpop, the Puppets’ distinctive panache is a result of the elegant, ’60s-styled harmonies and swooning, symphonic orchestrations that enrich their melody-soaked tunes.
“The Age of the Understatement,” the pair’s 2008 debut, is a charming footnote to the boys’ full-time gigs. But there was nothing secondary about the Shadow Puppets’ Oct. 30 performance on at Manhattan’s intimate Grand Ballroom. In many ways, the show was a bigger, bolder and more grandiose presentation than fans have seen from either performer before.
Once their 12-piece orchestra settled into place, Turner and Kane swaggered onto the stage sporting matching leather jackets and equally shaggy-haired mop-tops. Kane informed the crowd that they were about to “go f—king mental,” but throughout the 90-minute set, the duo commanded the stage with a poise and sophistication that belied their youth.
From the first note, the pair oozed chemistry, working together like two sides of a doubled-headed coin. Vocal duties were evenly dispersed throughout the set, which featured every track from the “Understatement” album, as well as a few choice B-sides. Separately, each held his own on the complexly arranged songs – especially Turner, whose flawless crooning seemed to come almost effortlessly. But when the duo intertwined their vocals, their harmonies rang with a pitch-perfect resonance that coalesced with the soaring strings and blaring brass that buffered every tune. The resulting wall of sound that filled the ballroom was enough to bring a smile to Phil Spector’s face.
Standouts such as the swinging “Standing Next to Me,” the simmering “My Mistakes Were Made for You,” the driving “Black Plant” and the tender “The Time Has Come Again” merely winked at the past. But the Puppets put their influences front and center with a series of cover songs throughout the show. Turner gave props to David Bowie during a delightful rendition of his obscure ’60s gem “In the Heat of the Morning.” Kane tackled Leonard Cohen’s Spector-produced song “Memories” with notable flair. Most inspiring was a note-for-note interpretation of the Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” where the pair took turns belting out their best John Lennon impression for the surprised and appreciative crowd.
Turner and Kane aren’t the first twentysomthing rockers to dust off an old tune or two. What made the Shadow Puppets show more than a novelty act was their keen understanding of the elements that made ’60s pop so potent, and their uncanny ability to execute them in ways that felt both genuine and fresh. And that’s a pretty impressive feat for two guys that missed the Summer of Love by a good 20 years.