Alex Turner Is One of the Last True Rock Stars
The older we get, the more we retreat to the music we once listened to when we were young. They say it’s because we’re more impressionable back then, and songs have more time to burrow deep into our subconscious. This is probably why, when someone asks you to list your favorite song or album, you’ll probably name one you first heard when you were a teenager, or even younger.
But that doesn’t apply to me and Arctic Monkeys. When Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not, the band’s major label debut, first came out, I was well into my 20s. My musical diet back then consisted mostly of guitar-wielding singer-songwriters (think John Mayer and Howie Day) or easy listening pop-rock groups in the vein of Dave Matthews Band, Coldplay, and Keane.
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But when the British lads came out with their first record with the kilometric-long title, it was hard to ignore. “It was, loud, fast and unapologetic,” I wrote about the record in my old blog dated February 18, 2006. “From the first few insistent chords of first single ‘The View from the Afternoon,’ you know you're in for a wild ride.”
I had actually downloaded the band’s first few singles, exactly how they wanted it, before I got the album. I searched for the lyrics of all the songs, printed them out and sang along with frontman and vocalist Alex Turner alone in my room. Half the time I couldn’t understand what he was singing about—who or what the hell is a “Mardy Bum?”—but I didn’t mind. He sounded angsty and frustrated (which mirrored my own emotional condition at the time), but still managed to come off cool and unbothered (which I wanted to be).
The follow-up records came out soon enough—Favourite Worst Nightmare, Humbug, Suck It and See, AM, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, and, the latest, The Car—that all helped propel Arctic Monkeys into stratospheric heights. They toured extensively, playing in every major city and region, but never quite reaching Manila. Until now.
Just one day after the conclusion of this year’s edition of Wanderland Music and Arts Festival, the same promoters (Karpos Multimedia) flew in Turner and the rest of the band for their Manila debut. It was the same venue, Filinvest concert grounds, which no doubt worked out well for Karpos. Lines formed as early as 3 p.m., and the earliest birds literally ran to the front of the stage to catch the band (i.e. Turner) in all his glory.
I had an idea about what an AM show is like thanks to the concert DVD I bought years ago (Live at the Apollo) and countless live uploads on YouTube, and I knew they could deliver, but you never dare bring up expectations that high. But as soon as Turner materialized onstage—white shirt, blazer, flared pants, dark sunglasses on—and the crowd erupted in deafening screams, I knew I had nothing to worry about. It was a pinch-me moment, like getting to stand in a place you’d only ever read about or getting to taste a delicious dish that’s only ever been described to you.
Opening song “Sculptures of Anything Goes” is from the new album, but it was when they launched into “Brianstorm” that the crowd went absolute nuts. You have to wonder how a very British band, singing about British things, in their thick British accents could possibly connect so widely and deeply with cultures foreign to their own, but you quickly realize that’s exactly what music does. We may take different paths but, eventually, we all arrive at the same destination and feel the same emotions.
Like Oasis, the Smiths, or yeah, maybe even The Beatles before them, Arctic Monkeys tap into something effortless and primal in each of us. Their lyrics are descriptive almost to the point of being visual, and the music obliterates the imaginary line between dance and rock that you can’t help but allow it to course through your veins and move you in ways that’s almost involuntary and spiritual.
There was minimal banter from Turner apart from a curt “Hello Manila,” but do you really need to say anything when your mere presence is enough to start riots? An arm raise, a little jig, a turn of the head or a sway of the hips elicited mad shrieks and guttural howls from the audience. And when he took off his sunglasses? Forget about it. Radiating the arrogance of Liam Gallagher, the poise and bearing of Bono, and the hypnotic charisma of David Bowie, Turner is undoubtedly one of the last true rock stars of our generation. There I said it.
Admittedly, I’m still warming up to the songs from the later albums, especially Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino and The Car, so I was looking forward more to their earlier material. You can just imagine, then, the ecstasy when the band did songs like “Crying Lightning,” “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High," "TeddyPicker,” “Arabella,” “The View from the Afternoon,” and “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor,” which, thankfully,” all made it on the setlist of the current tour. “Body Paint” is a current favorite from The Car, and I was happy they ended the regular set with that.
The mirrorball glowed on the first encore, “There’d Better be a Mirrorball,” and the band switched things up with a reworked version of fan favorite “505.” The big finish was a stirring performance of “R U Mine” from AM, in which Turner was joined by nearly every single person in the crowd.
Looking at the current landscape of popular music, you realize that Arctic Monkeys is an outlier—a once-in-a-generation talent that plays music that appeals to a vast swath of people from different age groups, social classes, and even genders. They’ve become a benchmark upon which other groups in the future will no doubt be measured against, and for those of us who were there at their Manila show, we'll no doubt carry the memories with us far into the future. Because, let’s face it, who knows when—or if—that will ever happen again.