The first time Alex Turner visited San Francisco, the Sheffield, England, native was a toddler on the apron strings of his grandmother, and awestruck by his exotic surroundings.
Now, as frontman for the road-seasoned alt-rock outfit the Arctic Monkeys, who play the Warfield on Thursday, he’s not jaded, exactly. But, having been here a lot recently, he has come to know The City like the back of his 21-year-old hand.
“And our last time through S.F., we had this total déjà vu evening,” recalls the singer, who landed Brit Awards for his band’s “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not” debut album. “We decided there were just too many concerts playing on our night off, so we went to the same movie theater on Van Ness, and — again — arrived 10 minutes too late to see our film. So just like before, we wound up sitting in our favorite Union Square diner by ourselves, drinking our favorite milkshakes. That was our big night out in San Francisco.”
The avid record collector also spent the next morning rifling through the 45 bins at another pet haunt, Amoeba. “Up in the old Haight,” he casually notes. “And it’s a bit of a cliche, but there’s a song that my dad and I used to play in the car — ‘Me and My Shadow’ by Sinatra — and I just dug my hand into the middle of this box of 45s, and that was the single I pulled out. Weird. So I got it for him, and I got ‘The Good Life,’ as well, by Tony Bennett, another very favorite song of mine.”
He underscores a good point — there’s more to this impish artist than meets the eye. Turner enjoys playing the brat; he recently phoned in his Brit acceptance-speech videos dressed in Village People and “Wizard of Oz” regalia, and the Monkeys’ new sophomore set, “Favourite WorstNightmare,” is full of sneering anthems.
But closer inspection reveals brains amid the pranks, as in “If You Were There, Beware,” which mocks the group’s Internet-spawned fame, or the jazzy new lounge-singer voice Turner displays on several surprising ballads.
“‘We shall croon!’ — that’s our new motto,” he says.
Yet the Monkeys’ stardom isn’t as random as it seems. Turner shrewdly handed out free demos at early shows and quickly reaped the rewards of a Web-based buzz long before the MySpace phenomenon kicked in. “So by the time we actually released something, people were so into it already they went out and bought it, and we topped the English charts that week,” he explains. The group went on to win the coveted Mercury Prize; in July, they played two nights at Manchester’s Old Trafford stadium for a combined crowd of 110,000.
Turner is still stunned that his talent allows him to tour the world, including repeated returns to The City, where the band opened Conan O’Brien’s Orpheum run.
“Fame? I never really think about it too much,” Turner says. “I think we just try and carry on and just write songs and make records. That’s what our aim is — to not get bogged down or let anything upset us. Because it is just a bit of fun at the end of the day isn’t it?”
Where: The Warfield, 982 Market St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Contact: (415) 421-8497; www.ticketmaster.com