No one would have blamed the Arctic Monkeys for being a little rusty. After all, they are playing their first gigs together in more than a year, touring Australia and New Zealand.
Tickets for the Monkeys' Sydney show sold out so fast that promoters switched it to a larger venue. And the 5,500 fans who descended on the Hordern Pavilion, near the Sydney Cricket Ground, were not disappointed, with the Sheffield lads demonstrating that they have lost none of their manic exuberance, nor their ability to energise and delight a capacity crowd.
During 2008, lead singer and lyricist Alex Turner took time out to make an album and tour with Miles Kane, the Rascals frontman, as The Last Shadow Puppets. The Monkeys also began recording their long-awaited third album – and in Sydney they gave their adoring audience a preview, incorporating four new songs into the 75-minute set. The band is Down Under for the touring Big Day Out festival, which kicked off in New Zealand last week, then moved to Queensland's Gold Coast, with dates in Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth over the coming week. In between festival appearances, the Monkeys, who are headlining with Neil Young, are playing a series of sideshows, all of them sell-outs.
At the Sydney gig, the new material met with a somewhat muted response, with the exception, perhaps, of "Crying Lighting", which features some frenetic drumming by Matt Helders. All four numbers – the other ones were "Pretty Visitors", "Dangerous Animals" and "Go-Kart" – would benefit from a second listen. The band's second album, Favourite Worst Nightmare, released in 2007, was not as immediately accessible as the first, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, and the third looks set to continue that trend.
This week's glimpse suggests that the third album will be heavier and louder than the previous two. "It's not like a massive change. You can obviously tell it's us," Helders told the Sydney Morning Herald last weekend.
Turner complained recently that the band, which shot to stratospheric fame three years ago, mostly tours in winter. He wouldn't have had anything to carp about in Sydney, where the Monkeys played the Big Day Out yesterday. The city is currently wilting in a 38C heatwave. The crowd, while it listened with respectful interest to the new songs, only really warmed up when the band belted out old hits, including the breakthrough single, "I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor". "Still Take You Home", "Brianstorm" and "Fluorescent Adolescent" were among others that met a rapturous reception.
Australians embraced the British wunderkinds from the start; their first album topped the charts and the second reached number two. No date has been set for the release of the as yet unnamed third album, which the Monkeys have been recording with Josh Homme, the American record producer and Queens of the Stone Age frontman, at Homme's studio in California's Mojave desert. That's a long way from Sheffield, but Helders told the Herald that the regional influence had not been lost. "It's just another place to use that creativity," he said. The album is reportedly two-thirds complete.