There’s a power and intimacy in singing songs you’ve sung alone while in a crowd of people who have done the same. I am most familiar with singing the Arctic Monkeys' “Do I Wanna Know” out loud when I’m really drunk at a pregame, hung up on someone new, or in the shower, pushing the upper limits of my Sheffield-by-way-of-Los-Angeles accent that the band's lead singer, Alex Turner, affects so well. But for some reason when I saw Arctic Monkeys play that song live to a sold-out WaMu theater on Tuesday, I felt embarrassed. Surrounded by a staggering amount of couples low-key trying to finger one another and large groups of tech bros, that intimacy and vulnerability didn’t quite translate for me.
Touring in support of their sixth album Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino, the Arctic Monkeys trotted out all the hits from previous eras: from “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” to “505,” “Pretty Visitors” to “Knee Socks,” the setlist was truly a mixed bag of goodies. Though I’d hoped they would focus on the chilled out space-age glam-rock smoky-bar vibe from Tranquility Base, this was the performance of a band whose lead singer definitely said that rock 'n' roll “will never die and there’s nothing you can do about it.” And while I chortled to myself at Turner's cocksure white male irreverence, it was followed up by, “Well Jas, what the fuck else are you here for?”
While in many ways the band’s performance was technically very good, I left feeling like I was still lacking something. It seemed unspecific, passionate but unemotional, like I was dropping in on them at any time, anywhere. I’m not saying bands or artists necessarily owe the audience their blood, but the machinations of the show were visible. After, I found myself in the desirous state that it seems Turner draws a lot of inspiration from: getting exactly what you wanted yet still left wanting something more. Instead of high ramblings left on voicemail boxes or imagined hands between thighs, I was rocking anxiously from side to side, half craning to see the faraway figures on stage and half checking my phone to make sure I’d make the next light rail home.
What’s always been so fascinating to me about straight white dude indie bands from this era (I’m thinking about The Strokes too) is that their angst isn’t burdened by representation. It’s allowed to be frustrated and accusatory in a way that mine could never be. It’s what drew me to their music in the first place—angst is universal. But seeing that play out onstage in 2018 A.D. seemed a bit weird and antiquated. After buying my $5 bottle of water, getting yelled at for my hair blocking the white lady’s view behind me, and watching opening act Mini Mansion do several spin kicks onstage, I thought, “This is why rock 'n' roll died.” The aging and cocky rockstar that Turner constantly evokes is a bit amusing but it makes me think: What music era are we nostalgic for and why?
Arctic Monkeys still has some bangers, though.