[1 October 2013]
Alt-J are one of the biggest acts to come out of 2012. The band is still firing on all cylinders, riding their Mercury-prize winning debut An Awesome Wave through summer festivals and sold out shows. Their two nights in New York were no different—Alt-J sold out both the Hammerstein Ballroom and Rumsey Playfield in Central Park with Lord Huron as their opener. And just like those New Yorkers, I too wanted to attend the show. But I came to one major conclusion early on in the show. I enjoy Alt-J’s music as much as the next person but, finally having caught them live, I didn’t understand why people would necessarily have to see this band - they don’t necessarily “rock out”. With just the one album under their belt, Alt-J’s set didn’t last much longer than an hour and was mostly straight music. Lead singer Joe Newman didn’t fluff the night with much banter and his bandmates, Gwil Sainsbury on bass, Gus Unger-Hamilton on keys and Thom Green on drums, didn’t speak much either.
When the lights got dark and the smoke machines kicked on, the rumbling bass of Tyga’s “Rack City” came on and the band took the stage. Alt-J segued from that song into the first track from their own album, “Intro”. Next came the tremors of “Fitzpleasure” whose bass levels seemed to even further disguise the band’s physical presence—they were already in hiding in minimal light. A couple of songs later the band paired together the mellow “Buffalo”, which they contributed to the Silver Linings Playbook soundtrack, and “Something Good”, whose tinkling pianos remind me of something from Moby.
Then they stirred things up, building from the staccato vocals of “Interlude I (Ripe & Ruin)” into the morphing “Tessellate” which embraced the already fawning audience in its pleasing grip. Alt-J’s next song was the wandering “Warm Foothills”, a new and more spacious song, equally as pleasing as anything on their album, that features whistling. On “Matilda” the audience didn’t shy away from singing the chorus of “And she needs you / this is from Matilda” more audibly, while the guitar soared above the verses.
When Alt-J threw in a cover of College’s “A Real Hero” from the Drive soundtrack, it was perhaps their only misfire as their raw vocals made the shoegazey original less dreamy. But they made up for it during the encore by closing with the awesome “Breezeblocks” a clear fan favorite and a nice way to show their appreciate. Alt-J and the audience created some more intimacy in the chilling evening as they engaged in some back and forth with the alternating “please don’t go” and “I love you so”. You couldn’t tell who was more upset that the night was over.