It’s amazing what a couple of years in Los Angeles can do to two nice young English boys. When The Last Shadow Puppets first arrived on the scene in 2008 among the final throes of Monkey-mania, it was hard not to find Alex Turner and Miles Kane’s double act charming. Their baroque pop songs were refreshing cast against the stale landfill indie du jour and their tailored suits distinguished them from the dozens of Strokes clones popping up in the pages of the NME at the time.
Fast forward eight years and TLSP are an altogether different proposition. While their earlier work betrayed an infatuation with Scott Walker, it seems the chief influences in their latest incarnation are Miami Vice, cocaine and Bowie and Jagger’s ‘Dancing in the Street’ video. This might sound a rather unsavoury cocktail but luckily in Turner they have one of the most accomplished songwriters of his generation, and despite the heavy focus on aesthetic this time round, it’s the tunes that make this project more than two mates just having a laugh together.
Tonight is the first of a three date residency in the Olympia Theatre and expectations are high. It’s rare that you can see Turner outside an arena or festival headline slot these days so there’s an element of excitement in seeing him in such relatively intimate surroundings. It’s half past nine when Kane strides onstage and begins teasing out the riff for ‘Used to Be My Girl’; by the time Turner slinks out in an oversized turtleneck and white loafers doing his best lounge lizard impression it’s hard to comprehend this is the same man who used to dissect the fake tales of so-called rock stars in his notebook back in Sheffield.
The band’s currency might chiefly be orchestral pop, but an early appearance of debut single ‘The Age of the Understatement’ serves as a reminder that TLSP is more than capable of rocking out when it calls for it. The set draws heavily from the duo’s recently released second album Everything You’ve Come to Expect with ‘Dracula Teeth’, ‘Miracle Aligner’ and ‘The Element of Surprise’ all getting the crowd shaking and moving.
Turner has said in interviews that he views the project as a place to try new things and have fun and it is most evident that he is definitely having fun tonight. Tongues are firmly in cheek this time around from the flamboyant garbs to the abundance of drunken uncle dancing. Turner seems relaxed enough to dispense with the rock star poses and Teddy boy seriousness that have been part of his day job for the past couple of years while Kane seems to be merely having the time of his life.
Kane has become something of a punching bag for the blogosphere in the wake of some ill-advised sleazy comments in an interview with Spin at the beginning of the year, but his energy is infectious here tonight and his virtuosity on the guitar can’t be denied. ‘Bad Habits’, somewhat underwhelming on its release, is much better in the live setting and ‘Aviator’ gives him a chance to show off his fretwork while the two men share a mic over its snarling central riff.
The set is not without its lulls however. Their sophomoric album was not quite as consistent as its predecessor which means there are a few occasions where the crowd’s attention begins to wander, but all is forgiven by the encore with a rocking cover of The Beatles’ ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ and a triumphant ‘Standing Next To Me’ ensures everyone goes home smiling. They might be garish and loud at points in their current guise, but it’s hard to deny they aren’t great fun at the same time. Everything you’ve come to expect.
The Last Shadow Puppets photographed for State by Leah Carroll