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The massive mirrorball didn’t descend from the ceiling — where it waited unlit atop an art deco stage design with all the anticipation of New Year’s Eve — until halfway through the set. It was at the start of a rambunctious rendition of “505” that it finally lit up in a shower of starry dots, reflecting and disseminating the Arctic Monkeys’ vision of all that rock could and should be in this millennium.
The seminal British band has long been on the front lines of preserving what’s left of the rock scene, fragmented by streaming and buoyed by dad-rock nostalgia culture. Its sudden ascension to godlike stature in the early aughts, helmed by ever-cool frontman Alex Turner, cemented that role. It’s no surprise, then, that the 2007 paean to youthful agitation was the song chosen for this climactic moment, garnering the loudest crowd roar of the evening.
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You’d never know from the set list that this tour was in support of the Monkeys’ lavishly orchestrated seventh album “The Car,” which divided fans after its October release. Only three of the EP’s tracks rang from a sold-out Merriweather Post Pavilion stage on Thursday, including the transcendental, otherworldly and aptly named single “There’d Better Be a Mirrorball.”
The band is seemingly constrained by its demanding and adoring fan base. Its performance felt, at times, more like an anniversary show for 2013’s “AM,” with semi-faithful reproductions of hits like “Arabella” and “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High.” Turner has a penchant for singing just a snap behind the beat, seemingly an inside joke with himself that prevents fans from singing along, and earning more than a few moments of internet virality. Turner’s older tracks were overrepresented despite the lustrous, sometimes psychedelic newer evolution of the band’s discography, but it’s his older repertoire that highlights his ironic theatrics.
Perhaps a decade or more of anthemic ragers has granted Turner a license to lean into the effortless swagger that punctuates his showmanship. During “Teddy Picker,” he literally conducted impeccable drummer Matt Helders’ fiery solo and backup vocals before turning to the audience with arms raised as if he were delivering a histrionic Shakespearean monologue. In “Snap Out of It,” he glared at the floor with hands on either side of his luxuriant shag. He at least waited until the encore finished to slide on his black aviators.
Fans of “Fluorescent Adolescent” made clear their gratitude for its return to the stage — up until Turner augmented its final chords with an ad-libbed “You rascal, you.” Otherwise, besides a curt hello after deafening, frenzied opener “Brianstorm,” and a gracious goodbye after pre-encore closer “R U Mine?,” Turner’s crowd interactions were notably scarce. He and the rest of the band — Helders, Nick O’Malley (bass) and Jamie Cook (keyboards, guitar) — seemed content to let the spitfire Sheffield-inflected lyrics speak for themselves over a hurricane of pounding melodies.
The evening closed with a reminder that “Car” deserved a bit more time in the driver’s seat. “Body Paint” began with a soft piano opening, expanding past Turner’s luscious falsetto to envelop the venue in an extended outro that was slow yet powerful. The set design shifted from retro white geometrics to multicolored dancing lights — a moment that proved these new songs can shine on their own.
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