Arctic Monkeys’ 2013 album “AM” transformed them from one of Britain’s biggest rock bands into one of the biggest rock bands, period. How did they follow such a massive success? Why, by waiting five years and then releasing the bizarre, insular space-lounge concept album “Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino,” naturally. Alex Turner may not be interested in making music for arenas at the moment, but at TD Garden Friday night he and his bandmates proved they sure still know how to play one.
Opening with “Tranquility Base” lead single “Four Out of Five,” Arctic Monkeys quickly allayed any concerns that the new material would flop live. With the core band supplemented by four backing musicians, Turner was free to physically embody the album’s louche crooner persona, sitting at his keyboard only when the mood struck. That magnetic rock-star charisma came across just as strong on heavier songs like “Crying Lightning,” on which Arctic Monkeys dared to ask: What if Black Sabbath were kind of sexy?
The set list was cleverly programmed to imply that “Tranquility Base” wasn’t some radical reinvention, but merely an expansion on Arctic Monkeys’ sonic threads. The moody, organ-drenched “505” segued quite nicely into the new record’s moody, organ-drenched title track, while the phones raised lighter-style for the gorgeous torch song “Cornerstone” were just as apropos for melodramatic “Tranquility Base” closer “The Ultracheese.” In fact, given the generally brooding nature of Arctic Monkeys’ output over the past decade, it was callbacks to the band’s jumpy, punky roots like “Teddy Picker” that seemed like the set’s true outliers.
Masters of delayed gratification, Arctic Monkeys didn’t play anything from “AM” until the show’s second half. Not that the crowd seemed to mind; they were too busy turning the guitar riff from “Brianstorm” into a soccer chant-style singalong, headbanging and crowd-surfing to the proggy stoner metal of “Pretty Visitors,” and generally giving the sort of enthusiastic response young rock bands aren’t supposed to be able to garner en masse anymore. Of course, the “AM” cuts received heroes’ welcomes when finally played, as sly, slinking performances of “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” and “Do I Wanna Know?” drove home why those songs have become modern rock standards. The moment that best captured the “AM” M.O. came during “Arabella,” when Turner sprawled seductively on the monitor as the band hammered out the “War Pigs” riff, taking their sexy-Sabbath synthesis to its logical endpoint.
For the encore, roadies wheeled out a large, mysterious metal cube. What was its purpose? Well, it rotated slowly during “Star Treatment,” and then . . . it was taken away without a word, a fittingly inscrutable bit of stagecraft for one of the more discursive, opaque “Tranquility Base” numbers. As for the hard-charging “The View from the Afternoon” and the mighty finale “R U Mine?” Those required no explanation.Terence Cawley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @terence_cawley