Photo: Atlantic Records Press/Gabriel Green
The night is witness to the rarest of live music occurrences: a star-less show. A gig unlike most, Alt-J live is an experience wholly devoid of ego.
All tactile percussion and tense harmonies, the set is weighted towards their 2012 debut, a pool of hits and crowd favourites to mine, and is punctuated by a selection from their second album, This Is All Yours. Highlights of these such accents are ‘Nara’, with its melodramatic Chopin-style piano, and ‘Every Other Freckle’, paradoxical with its darkly brooding bass synths and renaissance folky woodwind hooks that dance intermittently over the top. The twisted lyrical surrealism and smouldering distortion of ‘Fitzpleasure‘ typifies their brand of art rock weird.
The live atmosphere is exactly as the albums would have one hope: intense and subtle, the air in the BIC is electric, every detail of Alt-J’s musical complexity feeling magnified. Though spotlights occasionally single the three-piece out, they hardly fulfill normal star performer roles, instead offering themselves as a mouthpiece, the framework on which the music and the night itself can hang themselves. Frontman Joe Newman is an onstage introvert, choosing to speak only once throughout the gig, and each member of the band, glued to their marks for the duration, give little away.
The glam swagger of ‘Left Hand Free’ is clear fan favourite. It only seems a shame that it should be Alt-J’s least ‘authentic’ track, written purely to appease label worries that album number two wouldn’t be ‘pop’ enough to sell, that should kick the vibe up that extra gear. The band perform convincingly enough however, and the crowd would never know that the track they love so much is something the band would rather not be doing at all. Think less sell-out and more good music biz, this again is the star-less nature of Alt-J; the gig is not so much about them as it is filling the space with whatever best facilitates enjoyment in a reciprocal relationship between audience and music.
There’s an incredible attentiveness in the room, through the heavier moments and into the (many) quietly intricate parts of the Mercury Prize-winners’ set, an exceptionally focused audience are held entranced from the first moment to the last, in the way that only a truly captivating show can.
After a scintillating encore that features the fierce excellence of ‘Hunger of the Pine’, their predictable closer is ‘Breezeblocks’. Only the deftness of their performance could make the sense that this track is the main reason everyone is here so minimal. Their retiring frontman messing up right in the middle – articulated with an eloquent “Oh, fuck.” – the inevitable climax is in fact the most character the audience gets from the band. Masters of subtlety, deflecting the limelight even from an arena stage, Alt-J’s careful presentation is all the more endearing for those two perfect little words.
MINNIE WRIGHT @