The last time Alex Turner saw the inside of an arena in Boston, it was at the TD Garden, and he and the rest of Arctic Monkeys had totally and completely upstaged the headlining band. It was 2012, the Black Keys were touring in support of “El Camino,” and it had tapped the Sheffield four-piece to open from the start of the national jaunt.
Arctic Monkeys played to a half-empty expanse that night, just as it had at the Cumberland Civic Center in Portland the night before. Plenty of people had come out for its set before Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney took the stage, and a crowd of loyal fans — the ones who “import NME or whatever,” Anglophiles, as Turner sees it — gathered as close to the stage as they could, raising fists and thrashing about for “When the Sun Goes Down” and “I Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor.” The set was flawless. Nary a note nor a hair in Turner’s greased pompadour was out of place. The Black Keys went on to perform a lackluster, lazy hour and a half run through the more beloved hits of its discography while littering it with elementary mistakes, but Arctic Monkeys — that scrappy band with the unapologetic neo-punk upbringing you may have heard of because it was supposedly kind of good — were the great act. They were the memorable band. And it wasn’t even its tour.
Since then, Turner and company have returned to Boston — it played the Paradise in September — and will do so again this Thursday, Feb. 6, at the Agannis Arena. The band is accustomed to headlining slots at the legendary Glastonbury festival in its native England and sold out arena tours that wind through the United Kingdom year in and year out. But Arctic Monkeys is finally starting to muster the same enthusiasm stateside for the victory lap behind “AM,” its fifth record and the same one it released just days before its last time in town. (The band has long since sold out the Agannis along with Madison Square Garden.) Turner took us through the past few months he’s spent with the songs on “AM” and why Arctic Monkeys is finally comfortable straddling the formative gigs of its past and the promising stages of its future.
Q. The last time I saw you, you were opening for the Black Keys and “R U Mine” was the only song from the new record that’s out. You were touring behind the new stuff then, just barely. Have the songs of “AM” taken on a new disposition as they’ve been crafted on the road leading up to now?
A. Yeah. When we last met, the record hadn’t been written, really. “R U Mine” was never intended necessarily to be part of an album. We recorded and released that song to sort of freshen up the “Suck It and See” campaign when we went on the road. We wanted a new song to play. We did that, and then with the response that it got, it just felt like that’s what we should be doing. It ended up informing the record, but it seemed to make sense to include that song on [“AM”]. That and “Do I Wanna Know?” are the biggest songs we’ve got now, I suppose. It’s not everyone wanting to hear the old stuff all the time [at shows]. “R U Mine” and “Do I Wanna Know?” have kind of taken over the live show now. They get the best response.
Q. Has “Dancefloor” been unseated as the favorite child, then? I feel like that’s the Arctic Monkeys fan anthem.
A. I think it has a bit. There are definitely people that know the more popular songs from days gone by. Still, it’s on their playlist.
Q. It’s interesting, because when people get stoked about an artist, diving headfirst into their catalog isn’t uncommon, especially because it’s now such an easy thing to find and listen to an artist’s entire discography. Things have changed drastically since the first record you put out — you just headlined Glastonbury, for chrissakes — and yet you’re able to have a foot in the past while plowing into the future. Have you come up with a balance that works for you when it comes to working with the old and new Arctic Monkeys songs in equal measure?
A. I think that’s exactly where we are. Certain songs like “Dancefloor” we’re not going to leave out, but I think every album is pretty represented [in the set]. The only problem, if there is a problem, is that we don’t have enough of the new stuff now. On these last tours we’ve been doing in the US, it’s certainly the new album that gets the biggest response.
Q. What about even newer stuff? Is the current tour all about “AM” and the favorites or will we get a sneak peek at what you’re currently working on?
A. There isn’t, really. I don’t know if that’s disappointing, but we’re kind of wrapped up in [“AM”]. It still feels fresh. In the past we’ve always wanted to move along to the next thing, but now we’re kind of in a good place, playing these shows. It seems that all the songs that’ve come back into it, we’ve reworked them slightly or we haven’t yet played them this time around. As far as writing new music, that’s not in the cards at the moment.
Q. Did you at any point feel like you had something to prove to American audiences?
A. Yeah, it’s completely different for us now. When we first got here, the first time ’round, our album exploded in the UK, and we were in this whirlwind. We arrived here and we got the reaction from the sort of Anglophile kids who import NME or whatever, but it wasn’t anything like the reaction we’d seen at home, but of course, why would it be? You come to realize that it’s a totally different game over in the States and one we’re only just now starting to …
A. I didn’t want to say that, because it sounds so … but I guess it is! It really comes down to this record being stronger than the last couple and for us doing a lot of work here, touring a lot over the last few years. We enjoy it and kind of don’t really know anything else at this point. We’ve been down an awful lot of road. It’s totally different now playing here than it was on the first record, but I would hope it would be, given the time we’ve spent here — but that’s not to say we’re at the end of some road even now. It’s going good, but there’s still work to do. We’re not about to start coasting.
[Photo credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images]