The third and final day of the opening weekend of the 2018 Austin City Limits Music Festival saw a variety of musical styles, sometimes within the same performance. Though there were fewer big names than the previous night, the acts were solid and the night ended with perhaps the best show of the festival.
Atlanta roots rockers Neighbor Lady kicked off the final day on the BMI stage with a set of grooving Americana. Featuring twangy guitars and country rhythms, Neighbor Lady’s rock influences, from Emily Braden’s distorted rhythms to lead guitarist Jack Blauvelt’s impressive sustained deep string bends, added an edge to the music. When the band slowed things down, they sang with beautiful harmonies, but the set mostly featured mid-tempo rockers like “Fine” and the jangly-to-hard “Let It Bleed,” Braden’s voice a drawl over Blauvelt’s flourishes.
The Tito’s Handmade Vodka stage was the setting for Ghost of Paul Revere’s holler folk. The Maine quartet played a boisterous set of foot-stomping bluegrass-infused folk. With no drummer or percussionist, the beats were provided by rhythmic strumming and harmonization. On “Wild Child,” the band laid intertwining vocal harmonies down over a shuffling beat. “Here’s some podunk stuff from back home,” said bassist Sean McCarthy when introducing a country stomper.
Danceable, genre-fusing pop was brought to the American Express stage courtesy of Twin Shadow, aka George Lewis, Jr. Backed by two multi-instrumentalists, Lewis seamlessly melded synth-pop, funk, rock, new wave, and EDM, among other influences in a set that showcased his versatility. Easing into the set with the slow groove of “Brace,” Twin Shadow then leapt into the upbeat dancehall romp of “Old Love / New Love.” A crowd-pleasing performance of “Saturdays” — sans HAIM — showed Twin Shadow reveling in the sound of retro new wave synths coupled with a ridiculously catchy chorus. For the hit single “Five Seconds,” Lewis began the song at half-speed, with only his voice and slow guitar strumming before the bass and synths kicked in to crank the performance into overdrive. Whether belting out soulful vocals or dancing along the stage while jamming on a guitar solo, Lewis and Twin Shadow were at all times captivating.
In terms of showmanship, Janelle Monáe owned Austin City Limits. It was an epic performance that combined infectious funk-infused R&B, powerful vocals, and flawless choreography. Monáe was intensely charismatic, controlling the stage with swagger, sex appeal, and a sense of humor. The choreography – often cheesy in lesser hands – added to the performance, with Monáe and her backup dancers moving in ways that reinforced the songs’ meaning. The choreography for “Screwed” was sexy, for the thrilling earwig “Electric Lady” it was triumphant, and for “Django Jane” it was powerful and defiant, with Monáe sitting on a gilded throne. The presentation was only half of the thrill, though. Monáe’s voice, even while dancing, was pristine and strong. The band laid down one funky, highly danceable beat after another and underappreciated guitarist Kellindo Parker delivered captivating six-string mastery, especially on the funk riff of “Q.U.E.E.N.” and the extended guitar solo of “Primetime,” the set’s only slow jam.
Touring to support a polarizing album hated by some fans, it was hard to know what to expect from Arctic Monkeys. What happened was a standout performance showcasing the eclectic talents of the English band. Mixing new and old songs, rockers and ballads, the band had something to please all of the fans. Starting the set with a funky rendition of “Four Out of Five,” Arctic Monkeys then launched into one of their most aggressive songs, “Brianstorm.” Frontman Alex Turner had an understated swagger, working the crowd while crooning from the piano or jamming on guitar.
The slower songs showed the band’s talent for melody and subtle grooves, such as “One Point Perspective” and a new rendition of “Cornerstone,” which reimagined the acoustic guitar ballad as a piano ballad. The faster songs, such as the frenetic “Teddy Picker” and the heavy trash of “Pretty Visitors,” showed the band’s talent for riffing and, in addition to Turner’s guitar chops, showcased drummer Matt Helder’s rhythmic mastery.
After a grandiose performance of “Arabella” closed the regular set, the band returned for an encore that got off to a slow start. The meandering piano crooner “Star Treatment” wasn’t a good way to start an encore, but the band then followed it with blistering performances of the speed punk favorite “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” and the dynamic rocker “R U Mine.” As one of the most versatile bands at Austin City Limits, Arctic Monkeys showed that they are still as good as ever.
All photos by Maggie Boyd.