Alex Turner may forever be recognized as the Britpunk deity behind the Arctic Monkeys. But last night with an epic, dynamic, and thoroughly elegant set at New York City's Grand Ballroom, the rocker validated the existence and demonstrated the sheer talent of the Last Shadow Puppets, his symphonic side-project with the Rascals' Miles Kane.
With a 12-piece string section, a horn trio, bassist, guitarist/pianist, and Simian Mobile Disco's James Ford on drums behind them, Turner and Kane took the stage as dim blue, green, and red lights illuminated a long curtain bearing the band's name. Sporting sleek black leather jackets, the duo introduced themselves ("We're the Last Shadow Puppets," Kane yelled in excitement) and dove into the explosive and haunting (and totally Bond-like) melodies of "In My Room," a track from their debut album, The Age of the Understatement.
The new songs fared well live: The arrangements illustrated the pair's love for idol Scott Walker's late-'60s cinematic pop, and carried the reverb-y electric guitars and strumming acoustics. "Only the Truth" was like the soundtrack to a car chase, pairing Kane's whizzing guitar effects with the orchestra's dramatic twists and turns. Like the Pink Panther theme in double-time, the opening riff of "Standing Next to Me" had heads bobbing and feet tapping, before giving way to rollicking rhythms and spaghetti-western strings.
But that's not to say there weren't let-downs: "Oh, I fucked it up," Kane said midway through "Separate and Ever Deadly," stopping the band only to start again with extra urgency. And during a cover of the Beatles' "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" the bassist jumbled a few notes.
Otherwise, the pair played with a sophistication and precision uncanny for their young age. And on "The Time Has Come Again," a stripped down track featuring just Kane's electric guitar and the orchestra's romantic swells, Turner's slow-sung pathos transmitted convincingly.
With a slim catalogue of original tunes, the Last Shadow Puppets played up the covers, turning out a string-thick version of Bowie's "In the Heat of the Morning," a hip-twisting take on Burt Bacharach's "Little Red Book," and an awe-inspiring stroll through Leonard Cohen's "Memories."
The show closed with "Standing Next to Me," off their new My Mistakes Were Made For You EP, with the duo trading takes of "Time would be / Cruel to everyone / I'm sorry I met you, darlin'." Turner, Kane, and their 18-member backing crew then exited the stage, the red lights still shining down on their namesake.
Platinum album sales and press accolades may have led Turner to seek artistic indulgence with the Last Shadow Puppets, but it's not what the Puppets do next that's most interesting. Their sound -- vintage, dramatic, and excellent -- is intricate and focused. But it's how Turner takes his newfound musical direction and applies it to the Monkeys' forthcoming new album that's really of note. Now... we wait...
"In My Room"
"Age of the Understatement"
"Calm Like You"
"Only the Truth"
"Little Red Book" (Burt Bacharach)
"Won't Let Go"
"Separate and Ever Deadly"
"Standing Next to Me"
"I Want You (She's So Heavy" (The Beatles)
"My Mistakes Are Made For You"
"In the Heat of the Morning" (David Bowie)
"I Don't Like You Anymore"
"The Time Has Come Again"
"The Meeting Place"
"Memories" (Leonard Cohen)
"Standing Next to Me"