The Last Shadow Puppets have sullied their reputation in some quarters of late, scoring low enlightenment marks for hitting on a female reporter mid-interview. Northern bluster failing to translate across the Atlantic or full-on, unreconstructed Clarksonism? You decide. Either way, it doesn’t become a modern chap.
All of which laddish raffishness is the stranger, because if there’s one sexual dynamic at work tonight at the Usher Hall, it’s homo-eroticism. The Last Brokeback Mountaineers are a camp pair of strutting cocks, to be sure. Alex Turner works it constantly, stroking the rear of his chinos with undisguised appreciation, primping his barnet, swinging his snake-hips. If there’s one man on earth he’d like to take to bed, it’s himself.
This is probably much to the dismay of bandmate Miles Kane, in … wait, is that a Hawaii’an shirt? … who opts for a blokeish Ian Brown monkey swagger, but still looks like he’s gagging for a great big man-hug (and maybe more…) off his buddy. These two have spent overly long admiring themselves and each other.
The posturing, the preening, the supreme arrogance of a refreshed Turner demanding adulation with only “You’re a juicy audience, Edinburgh. I’ve been in showbusiness long enough to know a juicy audience,” as a pick-up line – all of it would be unbearable if they didn’t have the music to go with it.
But they do. Style and creativity mark every song here. They unveil the two most obvious crowdpleasers early doors – the dirty, punchy recent single Bad Habits and the galloping Age of the Understatement – but there’s plenty left in the tank. Ever-prolific, Turner uses this hobby job to out influences he can’t find space for in the Arctic Monkeys, likewise Kane. Morricone rears his head obviously on their first album, but there’s also the Stones, the Stray Cats, Little Richard, maybe even a hint of Tom Jones in the mix. The backing band know what they’re doing too. A black-clad female string quartet – an echo of Robert Palmer’s Addicted To Love video? – unleash searing orchestral fire, and Zach Dawes’ bass is forward and filthy.
Inevitably, it’s a gig that attracts people who shouldn’t be at gigs – the box-tickers, the big-night-outers – more interested in saying and showing they were there (even if they can’t remember it) than actually being there. The Puppets’ wanton self-regard is perfect for this – both audience and performers engaged in a mass personal marketing exercise.
But they’ve earned themselves a following of genuine obsessives too. This includes those who chant for The Beatles’ I Want You (She’s So Heavy) as an encore, knowing they’d done it at Cambridge Corn Exchange on the tour’s opening night. It’s an inspired song choice, and the Puppets’ version is wondrously done, but it does show just how epic music can sound, and even a man of Turner’s supreme self-confidence would have to admit LSP are no Beatles.
Self-indulgent then, yes, most definitely, but this is no pure vanity project. The Last Shadow Puppets prove Northern rock ‘n’ roll inventiveness still breathes strong.