alt-J

alt-j at The Beacon Theater in New York, New York, November 16th, 2014

Nov 17, 2014 Photography by Robert Altman Bookmark and Share


alt-J, the English indie wunderkinds who burst on the scene in 2012 winning the Mercury Prize for their first album, An Awesome Wave, hit NYC on their current tour supporting their sophomore effort last evening. Cleverly named after the keystroke combo that produces the Greek delta  ∆—signifying change—alt-J entertained a sell-out crowd at The Beacon Theater with selections from both their debut effort as well as the new album, This is All Yours. The question is, did they live up to their emblematic delta in proving that they are growing musically?

Stage presence has never been a particularly strong point for the trio of Joe Newman (guitar/lead vocals), Gus Unger Hamilton (keyboards/vocals), and Thom Green (drums). (They were joined on the tour by guitarist Cameron Knight). In that there is little delta- dressed in all black and seemingly hiding mostly in the shadows, the light show around them was the theatrical centerpiece of the evening.  Almost as though the sounds were somehow emanating from an atmospheric fog and sophisticated stage lighting instruments, with human figures peeking through the haze at moments. However, unlike reports from earlier stops on the tour, they did address the crowd at moments. They were definitely more animated than some other’s had suggested, though there is still little interaction between the players. Perhaps they are slowly settling into the reality that live performance is a part of being a complete artist-especially in today’s music environment where touring is critical to many group’s financial health.

But this is a music concert—and the music must be the ultimate star. Starting off with “Hunger of the Pine” off the latest album established their signature style. A complex layer of sounds and rhythms, forming a sonically sophisticated base for the higher pitched vocals of lead singer Newman. Perhaps the haze of the visuals is an apt metaphor for a sound that is as opaque and gauzy as alt-J’s.

Their sound translated very well live—not an easy task for a group with such a multi-dimensional palette. The mix was spot on, and sonic details became more evident live than on the MP3 compressed recorded versions. Thought was clearly given to matching the lighting with the songs, including a spectacular undulating effect during “Tessellate.” Geometry never sounded or looked so good! The crowd responded appropriately as they followed the set list from the more subliminal tracks to those with an edgier angular sound. Hearing the tracks from the new album live I believe added a dimensionality to the sound that seemed lacking in the recording. Those who found the new album somehow lacking need to check out a live show.

alt-J clearly has a very loyal group of fans. Following in the footsteps of Radiohead and The xx they clearly have a through-line of musical style to claim. An atmospheric and at times introverted sound combined with a visual and artistic sense. Appealing to the intellect as much as the emotions. There was a very devoted audience out in force last night for alt-J. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but then no music is.

So back to the starting question—is delta the correct choice of symbol for their music and group? Change can be incremental and evolutionary rather than quantum and dramatic. That is where alt-J stands. Building slowly on a sound and fan base that is willing to follow them- in the dark and light- to the next destination. And for NYC—the next visit will be to Madison Square Garden March 30th of next year. That’s the next evolutionary step—update to follow then.

Setlist:

1.Hunger of the Pine

2. Fitzpleasure

3. Something Good

4. Left Hand Free

5. Dissolve Me

6. Matilda

7. Bloodflood

8. Bloodflood Pt. 2

9. Ripe & Ruin

10. Tessellate

11. Every Other Freckle

12. Taro

13. Warm Foothills

14. The Gospel of John Hurt

Encore:

15. Lovely Day (Bill Withers cover)

16. Nara

17. Leaving Nara

18. Breezeblocks

(http://www.facebook.com/altJ.band)




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Peter G.
November 17th 2014
1:35pm

I thought this was as super show especially in how they mixed the new material in with the classics.  I saw them 3 times in nyc last year and in each show I was annoyed with the crowd noise during quiet passages.  Not, this show.  These were hardcore alt-j fans..many knew every lyric.  And most folks got up to dance and never sat back down.  In March 2013 at Webster Hall, Joe had just relinquished his spokesman role and did not speak other that to introduce 1 song.  Gus does all the talking these days, but I could not understand most of it between the screaming fans and the British accent.

We were all there to ENJOY music.  It seemed that both the crowd and band did.  So, why do we want to force more banter from low-key guys who are not comfortable in the spotlight?  I want them to be comfortable so I can enjoy their best.

Speaking of spotlights, the only spotlights on stage were aimed at the audience.  The only time you could actually see the band was between songs when the blinding lights were off.