"Good afternoon, Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino, Mark speaking. Please tell me how may I direct your call?"
Yes, after 5 years of wondering "How the hell are they going to follow AM?" Arctic Monkeys returned with a mesmerising new album that really polarised opinion. I'll admit, it took me a few listens to buy into this ambitious concept, but after that I was sold. Besides, I'm sure Revolver turned a few heads when that came out.
I managed to secure a pass to shoot the second night of the Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino tour in Manchester and was hugely intrigued to see how this delicate, considered, Kubrick-esque new sound was going to fit in with sing-along anthems like 'Mardy Bum' and 'I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor'.
Arriving at the Arena, it was pretty clear to see a lot of consideration had gone into the whole production. The tour crew all had hot pink 50s bomber jackets with "Monkeys" embroidered across the back, the cameramen in matching hot pink boiler suits, this time embroidered with the album title. We were led into the pit in plenty of time to scrutinize the set up, and at first it seemed quite understated. A few vintage amps and keyboards around the stage were curtained by art deco fanned wall panels,which in turn were crowned with a large hexagonal light panel, inspired by Tranquility Base artwork - Vintage was very much the adjective of the evening.
In the moments before the band took to the stage, football-like chants of "YOOOORKSHIRE" and "Whoa Alex Turner" (to the tune of 'Seven Nation Army') reverberated around the arena, which in itself felt quite romantic. Here we had a band with a whole new creative direction, that seems at first glance to be a million miles away from the adidas-clad iconic "Don't believe th'ype" days of songs about regretting drunken mistakes and hopping taxis, yet the old-school adoration from the fans seemed as strong as ever. In a way, it seemed a fitting parallel to 'A Certain Romance' - the closing track from debut Whatever People Say I Am, That's what I'm Not - declaring that mates are mates, regardless:
"Well over there there's friends of mine, what can I say? I've known them for a long, long time. And though they might overstep the line, you just cannot get angry in the same way"
My wandering, poetic, and somewhat pointless musings were soon interupted with the arrival of Yorkshire's finest - accompanied by what looked like an army of session musicians - to the stage, all donned in vintage cut tailoring, opening with the Bowie-esque lead single from the new album, 'Four Out of Five'. I think this was the first time I'd ever photographed Alex Turner without a guitar around his neck, which was a little surreal. Parading across the front of the stage with all the swagger of Messrs Bowie and Jagger, you could see Mr Turner embracing his flambouyant side, gesturing to the crowd throughout and stiking plenty of great poses for us photographers. 'Four Out of Five' segwayed seamlessly into an older, heavier number - the blistering 'Brianstorm', which instantly injected a buzz of electricity into the room. The place was jumping, and we were a song and a bit in! Things mellowed more into a groove for the final song of our allocation, the toe-tapping 'Snap Out if It' from AM. Still plenty on offer to photograph, as the backdrop became more illuminated.
What I really have loved with the new album is how vintage it feels, and the live production appeared to display the same traits. There are a lot of contributors listed on the album sleeve, and having so many session musicians on stage with the band (I counted 5, I think) maintained the analogue feel, and gave everything an air of genuine authenticity - like we were witnessing a full live rendition of what took place in the studio. It would have been easy to roll the band out with a Laptop round t'back with all the samples and sounds in, but I guess that just isn't how they do things down at Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino, is it?
I'm acutely aware that I'm rambling. I sometimes forget I'm not a writer. This all sounded eloquent in my head. Honest.
In summary: band were great, new album is huge live, light was a bit tricky, and Yorkshire is wonderful. Now here's a bunch of pictures