The Arctic Monkeys Show At Kings Theater Was Existential, Full Of Hits, And Weird

The line to get into Arctic Monkeys at Kings Theater was wrapped around the block with music lovers becoming beggars in the street asking for extra tickets. The Ticketmaster sale was an impossible battle — not unlike The Hunger Games — that left many fans in despair. I was told the band was going on at 8:30 P.M., and my friend and I were worried about missing their entrance because that time was a half hour away and we were at the back of the line. It moved fast, though, and we were cushioned in between normie-looking men we made fun of — “Arctic Monkeys are for girls and gays only,” we agreed — as they mumbled to each other about how they hoped they would play early stuff. We watched everyone take a photograph of the marquee because it would be their only way of proving they were at the show. She said she heard that people started lining up at 8 A.M. By the time we got in, we finessed our way into getting pit wristbands and put our phones in sockets that automatically locked — a rule that was placed because the performance was being filmed.

After sprinting to the bathroom and getting drinks, we hurried to the pit. We marveled at the weird demographic of the crowd. There were not as many young women as I expected; there were a lot of older people, especially men with bald heads and button-up shirts. There was a man dressed up as Elvis. There were some couples. It was a mixed bag. I became aware of the internet bubble I was always in; I had pictured a swarm of girls in Doc Martens and fishnets, a Tumblr-come-to-life situation. But they were all hidden behind dudes in khakis vaping. I assumed they were closer to the barricade, the ones lining up in the morning.

I had scoured ticket sites for weeks after the Ticketmaster fail. I’d never seen Arctic Monkeys before, despite AM being one of the first vinyl records I purchased and “505” taking the place as one of my favorite songs ever. In those days, I was one of millions of girls posting pictures of Alex Turner on my finsta with a caption about wanting him to run me over with a car. But I had been more devoted to their counterpart The Neighbourhood, who I caught at Terminal 5 in early high school where the crowd was all girls pushing each other violently. When this surprise Arctic Monkeys show was announced, I decided my attendance was essential, especially at a venue that possessed the aura of a chapel. Up until the day of, a pit ticket cost $400. I texted my friend: you don’t understand i need to be in fishnets and docs screaming along to arabella and looking alex turner in the eyes. I told my friends that I wanted to go feral, to experience physical and emotional catharsis to the songs that soundtracked my youth.

My friend and I sat on the floor against the barricade as we waited. Time failed to exist without our phones. I knew it was well past 8:30. We talked about men and shows and our years so far. We theorized about the Elvis impersonator. “No one’s going to believe that we snuck into the pit,” she said to me. Our lack of phones added an existential tilt to everything we did — would we be able to prove anything? Was our experience real if other people didn’t know about it? She said she heard that the reason we had to put our phones away was that they were gonna perform their forthcoming album The Car in its entirety. I said I doubted that.

The environment had the texture of a play rather than a concert. I ran to the bathroom once more and as I was coming back the lights dimmed and the crowd cheered. I grabbed my friend’s hand and we wove our way into the crowd. Fog diffused into the air and a disco ball descended over the stage. The members walked onto the stage and Alex Turner sat himself at a piano to perform “There’d Better Be A Mirrorball,” the enchanting lead single from The Car. It was a tender beginning. His voice dominated the theater with its breathtakingly clean and sultry cadence. “I can’t believe he actually sounds like that,” I yelled.

The disco ball raised back up and disappeared as “One Point Perspective” began next, a jaunty Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino cut that prompted Turner to saunter around the stage theatrically, taking on his designated role as the irresistible heartthrob as he looked into crowd members’ eyes and put them in a trance. As he sang, “Bear with me, man / I lost my train of thought,” he stood at the microphone and took on a confused look, a charming moment I’d watched him in before through a TikTok that made me screech.

There has been lots of talk about the revival of the 2014 Tumblr era. The conversation began at the start of the pandemic, and journalists concluded that those who were reblogging Matty Healy gifs in 2014 were just about entering their 20s and experiencing nostalgia for their early teenage days. That was intensified by the way quarantine forced many people back into living at their parents’ house and therefore spending nights in their childhood bedroom. Along with all of that, there was TikTok — a platform that thrives through niche communities. People on that app started to reminisce, wearing American Apparel tennis skirts and spinning a Catfish & The Bottlemen record.

So when the band launched into “Snap Out Of It” next, I interpreted the AM shift as a sign to get into the core of the crowd to dance. I grabbed my friend’s hand and tried to make my way through but was immediately stopped by people in front of me who were as cemented as a wall. I shrugged it off and jumped up and down, earning some glances from those standing still next to me, sometimes whipping my hair and screaming the words at the top of my lungs. The smell of weed slowly started to overtake the smell of vape smoke. A ton of AM essentials were fit into the set, like “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High,” “Do I Wanna Know,” “Arabella” — the kind of songs reverberating with a restlessness yet are not exactly energetic. The rhythms are too tame and the feeling is contained to find an easy way to move your body along. Mostly, fans threw their hands in the air while singing along. My friend and I noticed one or two phones that were snuck in and lifted up during a classic chorus. We danced more fervently when they played Humbug hits, like the visceral “Crying Lightning” and “Potion Approaching,” which leaned into their punk edge. I was confused at the lack of movement around us, thinking about the time a friend had once told me that she left an Arctic Monkeys show in bruises.

It wasn’t until songs from their debut Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not that two guys crashed into me and my friend, hopping around carelessly. Finally, we mirrored them without worrying about judgment. A girl with a big smile who looked like a fellow Tumblr veteran came up to me and said something. I yelled: “What?” And then I heard her: “Do you want to start a mosh?” I yelled: “Yes!” In the blink of an eye, she pushed me and my friend and the guys and suddenly there was a little pit of us sweatily body-slamming each other and laughing with our hands in the air. I saw a person crowdsurfing and shrieked. For the rest of the show, our area in the crowd was free-spirited and ardent. Everyone made eye contact with each other as they yelled along, serenading each other. A guy lifted me up to crowdsurf and I headbanged my way toward the stage so hard that my glasses flew off my face. I got down and tried looking for them but they catapulted into another Whatever People Say I Am anthem and I surrendered myself to the mess of jumping bodies, losing my mind with them. They walked off the stage after the explosive and extremely sexy “R U Mine?” during which I shamelessly played air-guitar.

Of course I knew an encore was coming because they hadn’t played “505.” When they came back out after some chants, they took things slow by debuting “Mr Schwartz” from The Car and playing the cinematic Humbug ballad “Cornerstone.” Friends slow-danced and the disco ball came back down to cast white circles on everything. I stood swaying, hoping my friend would find me because everything in my vision was blurry. I moved to the back of the crowd and then finally the first note of “505” kicked in — a note that triggers a reflex in me, like in a “Welcome To The Black Parade” by My Chemical Romance kind of way — and I went back into the audience. I wanted to devise a plan to crowdsurf as soon as the beat dropped; it would be spiritual, a kind of soaring that would lead to out-of-body transcendence. But the guys around me were unreliable, too preoccupied with jumping, and I acquiesced and it was liberating and invigorating nonetheless.

The lights came on and the floor was covered in crushed beer cans, striking me as sacrilegious under the artful ceilings. A guy came up to me to engage in a fist-bump. I left him hanging, telling him I lost my glasses and my friend. He asked what her name was and riled his friends together. In a minute, they held out my golden frames to me, devoid of lenses. I laughed and thanked them. Someone else came up to me with one lens, grey and scarred. My friend came running up to me and said she had been dancing with those guys who crashed into us before. The steps were blocked by cesspools of people. I said I was afraid of what the filming of the show would look like. I never want to watch it; I would just see how weird I looked during my spurts of wild passion, and I don’t need to see that. When we finally reached the exit, our cases with our phones were unlocked and we took a disheveled post-concert selfie — one last piece of evidence.