By the time the Arctic Monkeys’ fifth studio album, AM, was released in September 2013, Alex Turner had established himself as one of the most compelling frontmen in rock and roll — though perhaps not for the usual reasons. Suddenly, he was channeling a bit of Jim Morrisson’s brooding croon, pulling off Jaggeresque sashays, and doing more with his hips than anyone but Beyonce. But, no matter how much WD-40 he seemed to have sprayed on his hip labrum, the whole pomaded AM aesthetic seemed a bit too polished and rehearsed to be really rock and roll.
Cue Miles Kane. The pair collaborated as The Last Shadow Puppets on 2008’s The Age of the Understatement, and though they’d created a sound basically unlike anything else in the twenty-first century pop/rock universe, their relationship as musicians and as pals took a few more years to reach maturity. These guys are best mates — evidenced, for example, by that video of them flailing at a Strokes concert — and maybe you can only be as loose and goofy and, well, yeah, rock and roll, as these two are Tuesday night at Terminal 5 in midtown Manhattan if you’re playing with your best mate. It helps if your tunes slay and if you have a decade-old audience of worshipping fans, which these two do. You could say that New York’s invisible stars were aligned for an amazing show tonight.
Opener Cameron Avery (of Tame Impala, though he doesn’t mention it) comes off as a bit of an Alex Turner epigone at first but soon proves he’s much more, with a long poemsong about lust and gambling more in the vein of Nick Cave, a decent John the Revelator cover, and plenty of could-be hits riding on full-blooded outback masculinity. There are a few grumbles: “That 10 minute song could have been, like, two,” someone behind me says. But he had Xs on his hands and probably wouldn’t have enjoyed Tom Waits, either. Avery’s upcoming album will be worth a listen.
The Last Shadow Puppets take off with some of their older numbers, including “Standing Next to Me,” before seguing into a solid set of material from Everything That You’ve Come To Expect. With a talented string quartet and rhythm section the songs sound huge, and Alex and Miles have fun with them. Miles shreds and bows and stares in a kind of ecstasis; Miles solos and Alex wiggles his hands like a voodoo priest, or he decides to vamp the beginning of a tune without telling anyone, he takes a smack to the face from Miles’ guitar and he rubs and stares at his own blood like it’s some kind of magical substance. I’ve seen Turner onstage three times now, only once with TLSP, and I’ve never seen him as fun and unselfconscious as this.
Standouts of the night have to include the rocker Aviation and the funky Element of Surprise, but the real unforgettable moments came later, as when Alex looked up during the epic Sweet Dreams, TN and scanned the upper deck with earnest eyes for its inspiration, Taylor Bagley — or when he took to the balcony himself to serenade us with The Dream Synopsis. The whole time, let me remind you, the boys are absolutely mad.
“Cameron Avery, are you in the building?” Alex croons before the final number of the encore. It takes the opener a while to make it back to the stage, and Alex hems and haws to fill the time before Miles, unable to restrain himself, breaks into the opening crunch-chords of David Bowie’s Moonage Daydream, a TLSP regular since the passing of the man who was no small influence on their own brand of orchestra rock. Avery appears and hugs Alex around the waist before joining him on a microphone; the song is perfect for the string-backed hard rock of TLSP and I can say honestly that the closing song is one of the best live numbers I’ve seen in the past year (and I’ve seen a lot this year).
Of course, like a lot of you, I think it’s high time for the Monkeys to get back in the studio and give us a sixth album, what’s sure to be yet another transformation for one of the most compelling acts going, one that’s defined and redefined my generation. But nights like tonight remind me to be thankful for The Last Shadow Puppets, who, even beyond putting out two beguiling and inimitable albums, have created a space for Miles Kane and Alex Turner to be something that so far they’ve never achieved elsewhere. Nights like tonight might be a Moonage Daydream in the context of both men’s careers, but its a dream we won’t forget on waking, and we’re all the better for having dreamed it together.