‘An Awesome Wave’ of sound and space
Alt-J - Live At Corsica Studios, London

If the eager punters outside who aren’t selling but desperately trying to buy are any indication, Alt-J could have sold out most venues in the capital tonight. You can feel it. “Are you sitting comfortably?” Gus Unger-Hamilton on keyboards asks. Well, no actually, but any mutterings about temperature and personal space are quickly displaced with the joys of spring as the seraphic a cappella harmonies burst from the stage as the band close the cinematic ‘Intro’ with ‘(Ripe and Ruin)’. The contrasting vocals of Unger-Hamilton and singer Joe Newman create a monastic feeling, but this is no church, rather one of the many ingredients that make up the music of Alt-J, or for the Apple generation, .

But don’t be fooled, while their name refers to a keyboard shortcut, all perceived pretention is far removed from the band and we are presented with an honest, gracious performance driven by a band making intelligent music and perfecting their craft. ‘Tesselate’ shoots off into intricate, angular (some might say triangular) shapes as Newton falsettos and the audience swoons. In fact, it’s all a little too polite and despite album favourite ‘Something Good’ bouncing effervescently to a warm reception, one wise owl shouts for an increase in volume. The sound team oblige and in perfect time for recent single ‘Breezeblocks’ which, with the added volume, collides and clatters under the macabre lyrics. The audience sense the victory and ‘Matilda’ is flaunted with a mass sing-along from the crowd greeted with ear-to-ear grins from the band.

The songs and the way the band interpret them on stage are reflective of their attitude to music. Throughout the set, and in fact any chosen song you hear varying influences that range from folky acoustic solos, to the most delicate harmonies oscillating with experimental electronica and shuffling drum patterns. Despite the assortment of sounds and instruments you never feel overwhelmed or get the sense that there’s simply too much going on. The band use breaks in songs and interludes to illusory effect which give them space before smothering you with an “awesome wave.”

The climax to the set is characteristic of this with ‘Fitzpleasure’, fusing chants and unhinged vocal harmonies with thunderous bass drops that rattle and groove through the crowd. The band then invite a small strings section for final track ‘Taro’ which again fuses softly played/spoken verses with the plucking of violin strings creating an almost Bhangra-like chorus, which breaks off into a crunching guitar riff before soaring off.

As with most of the set, you’re kept guessing as to which way they’ll go next which makes for an exciting performance but also demonstrates how far Alt-J are ahead of the curve.

Words by Andrew Darby
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