Live review: Alt-J at ABC, 6/5/13

Alt-J

“This time last year we were playing at the Art School and our album had just been released” Alt-J’s Gus Unger-Hamilton informs the crowd.

It’s testament to the speed at which the music world works these days that in those twelve months the band have won huge critical acclaim, taken home a Mercury award and are now in the midst of a sold-out tour of the UK.

What made that debut album, An Awesome Wave, stand out so strongly was that Alt-J seemed to arrive fully formed and bristling with confidence and as a live band they match up to those high standards.

The tight rhythms and structure of a song like opener ‘Tessellate’ require a band that is completely in sync and able to make the changes snap into place.

Alt-J pulls this off with ease and look the part as they stand before a wall of lights.

The simplicity of both songs and performance is perhaps the bands great strength but at times some stabs or frenzies of light are required to provide a bit of stage presence.

There’s also an obstacle to overcome in replicating the production of the album onstage.

On record, the chorus to ‘Taro’ ends with a riff that hits your speakers like a freight train, when played live that same riff arrives almost apologetically and is drowned out and muted by the other instruments.

The end result is a big build up without a satisfying conclusion and this is a recurring problem throughout the night.

Alt-J

That said the moments that don’t rely on samples or synths are incredibly strong.

There are some excellent vocals behind the guitar parts and on a track like ‘MS’ the addition of harmonies lifts the performance.

Here the simplicity of band who don’t even use cymbals lets the song speak for itself and works to perfection.

A cover of ‘A Real Hero’ by College, better known as ‘that awesome song from the Drive soundtrack’ is a well-judged diversion for the band and a nice break from the album tracks.

But the best response comes for ‘Breezeblocks’, perhaps their most accessible song and certainly the easiest to dance along with.

It’s in a song like this that the band seems to meet their full potential and Alt-J’s follow-up album will be certainly be one to look out for.

Words: Alastair Mitchell
Photos: Iain Scott

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