ACL Live Review: Arctic Monkeys
New album falls flat, but the UK rockers rise to the occasion
By Doug Freeman,
12:30PM, Mon. Oct. 8, 2018
Arctic Monkeys’ brilliant but divisive sixth studio album, this year’s Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, set up their fourth ACL Fest appearance on Sunday and begged the question whether the intimate, lounge-y concept album would translate across a festival field or even mesh with their previous arena-rocked hits.
The answer at their headlining set on the Honda stage proved a mixed bag. Ultimately, the new material largely failed to connect no matter how compelling. Yet, the group’s familiar explosiveness revved the crowd to a proper first weekend closeout.
Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, with its disaffected lunar cabaret schtick, delivers deliberately difficult fare, asking fans to follow Alex Turner’s crooning ballads as he plays Ziggy Stardust stuck in an extraterrestrial piano bar. That’s a long trip to make from the thumping skuzz and hard dance-floor bangers from 2013’s AM, and knowingly, the Sheffield UK sextet leaned heavily on that previous outing, with seven of the set’s 21 songs served from that platter over a 90-minute span.
Exception to the new material was opener “Four Out of Five,” the lead single dishing deep groove and followed immediately by the pummel of “Brianstorm” from 2007’s frenetic Favourite Worst Nightmare. Also notable was how Turner torqued the set to align older songs with the five new tunes he offered up, especially in his shift to keyboards for the languid “505” and the title track to Tranquility before “Do Me a Favour” and guitar ripper “Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair” brought the crowd back to an uproar.
That coincided with the point at which Travis Scott’s earth-rattling bass blast from down the Zilker Park hill upturned the Monkeys, crushing the slow sway of “The Ultracheese.” The punk barrage of “Pretty Visitors” punched back, but suave closer “Arabella” lost the fight and seemed to threaten any encore.The band’s short, three-song return triumphed, however, new “Star Treatment” giving way to the debut LP’s frantic “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” and the show closing out with AM’s audience blow-up “R U Mine?” The new platter might not play well for the live festival set, but Arctic Monkeys have enough firepower to provide ample air cover.