Live Review: Arctic Monkeys test drive ‘The Car’ at TD Garden

Photo Credit: Victoria Wasylak

The year is 2023. You, dear reader, likely identify as one of two kinds of Arctic Monkeys fans: A smart-mouthed punk drawn to the quick wit and licks of the band’s 2006 debut, or a former AM-obsessed tumblr teen known for blaring “Knee Socks” while you, too, donned knee socks and short skirts (probably from American Apparel — RIP) and posted artful selfies with captions like “𝒴𝑜𝓊’𝓇𝑒 𝓀𝒾𝓈𝓈𝒾𝓃’ 𝓉𝑜 𝒸𝓊𝓉 𝓉𝒽𝓇𝑜𝓊𝑔𝒽 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝑔𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓂 / 𝒲𝒾𝓉𝒽 𝒶 𝒸𝑜𝓊𝑔𝒽 𝒹𝓇𝑜𝓅 𝒸𝑜𝓁𝑜𝓊𝓇𝑒𝒹 𝓉𝑜𝓃𝑔𝓊𝑒.” Both eras are now old enough to land on a decade-themed “best of” list.

In either case, you’re wondering, “Do I wanna know what Arctic Monkeys sound like these days? Do I wanna know what anti-antics frontman Alex Turner is up to onstage, when his songwriting speed has slowed to the wending ballads of The Car and Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino?” 

If Sunday night’s (September 3) show in Boston at TD Garden was any indication, Turner won’t tell fans “yes.” He will instead bury the answer in their minds, like musical Inception. The Sheffield band’s flair for the dramatic may have elongated into cinematic soliloquies in recent years, but their status as rock’s entrancing trendsetters has yet to crumble, largely due to Turner’s transfixing knack for faux-conducting. 

Sunday night’s show began with Turner in the drivers’ seat of 2022’s The Car, warming the band’s engine not with a dance number, but the sweeping drone of “Sculptures of Anything Goes.” Not yet tethered to a guitar, his hands’ darting gestures directed the ominous preamble. One flick of the wrist spurred the synths onwards. Another halted them. A third motion, a quick toss of his sunglasses, incurred a surge of squeals. 

“Now that’s my idea of a good time,” he crooned, already winning this game of new album first impressions. Arctic Monkeys may have dropped The Car close to a year ago, but this fall marks the first time the band has been able to test drive the record stateside, five years after touring to fill vacancies at Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. Now tasked with the role of Car salesman, Turner dispersed newer material into the set like swoonsome interludes to demonstrate that Arctic Monkeys circa the 2010s and 2020s are the beginning and end of the same mirrorball, always reflecting the moody shimmer of Sheffield. 

It’s a simple ratio: Stick the keys in the ignition of The Car just long enough to set the radio dial to AM. The 2013 record dominated the band’s Boston performance, anchoring the set’s slower moments — “Body Paint” and “There’d Better Be A Mirrorball” — to predictable crowd-pleasers like “Arabella” and “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?”

The gravitational pull of Turner’s unassuming charisma can’t be underestimated when balancing the equation, either. When parsing through the failed flirtations of “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” he sang off the melody line, as if telling a story in lieu of any prolonged crowd interaction. For an instrumental portion of “Pretty Visitors,” he thrust the mic stand above his head and tread lightly across the stage in his heeled dress shoes, improvising a two-step where his contemporaries might employ a pompous stomp. He remained so reserved that every time he futzed with his hair, you might have believed actually he felt a strand out of place, instead of assuming he’s merely peacocking. 

The airtight set concluded with “R U Mine?”, a bit of a sick question with the crowd so clearly wrapped around Turner’s finger for the past 90 minutes (and ironically even more enraptured when singing along to “Snap Out Of It”).

Regardless of any initial wariness, Sunday night’s show made it clear that the admiration between Arctic Monkeys and their fans still flows both ways. It’s due time for both parties to quit the second-guessing.

As Turner quipped on a cut from Favourite Worst Nightmare: “Do me a favor / And stop asking questions.”