Alt-J @ The Civic Hall, Wolverhampton – 22nd September 2014

Alt-J  @ The Civic Hall, Wolverhampton – 22nd September 2014Alt-J  @ The Civic Hall, Wolverhampton – 22nd September 2014Alt-J  @ The Civic Hall, Wolverhampton – 22nd September 2014Alt-J  @ The Civic Hall, Wolverhampton – 22nd September 2014Alt-J  @ The Civic Hall, Wolverhampton – 22nd September 2014Alt-J  @ The Civic Hall, Wolverhampton – 22nd September 2014Alt-J  @ The Civic Hall, Wolverhampton – 22nd September 2014

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Alt-J is the epitome of the millennial, internet-age rock band, marked by some as electro-pop, described by others as downbeat acoustic trip-hop, and my particular favourite, spooky neo-rhythm and blues. Whatever it is, tonight they play to the packed-out Civic Hall in Wolverhampton with hypnotic ease, kicking off the proceedings with Hunger of the Pine.

Singer Joe Newman begins to murmur his half-language across the room, and as the song builds so do the accompanying lasers. The light show is impressive but still fitting to the intricate but sometimes empty arrangements of Alt-J.

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As the acapella vocals of Fitzpleasure ring out it is clear that the interweaving vocals of Newman and Gus Unger-Hamilton are themselves another instrument to add to the sampling pot. Alt-J both challenge and include their fans. The infinite comparison to Radiohead is only relevant because, like them, experimental music doesn’t necessarily exclude them from rising popularity.

There is little chat between songs but appealingly so. When Newman does say a few words he is sincere and thankful for the response from the crowd tonight, and admits to the crowd that he pressed the wrong pedal and “fucked up” before launching into Something Good.

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Drummer Thom Green’s strange setup is dizzying to watch. No cymbals crash and glaze over his beats. His timing is on point with the precision and dynamic of something mechanical. If you closed your eyes you would swear it was a pre-programmed drum machine but Green’s effortlessness is really something special.

Vocalist and keyboardist Gus Unger Hamilton is relaxed on stage, mentioning that the new album, This is All Yours is released today before leading into Dissolve Me. The folk-like harmonies spill over the crowd only to explode into the pulsing refrain, “She makes the sound the sea makes, knee-deep in the North Sea”.

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The Civic Hall gushes with anticipation when they are met with the murmurings of Matilda, all jangly guitars and delicate vocals counteracted by an exact cascade of folk-step beats. Bloodflood Pt. 2 is a slight departure, starting out with radiant piano and slowly moving into ghostly vocals and engulfing trip hop beats.

The crackling beats of Tessellate are welcomed by a roar from the crowd, layered with sometimes-incomprehensible lyrics, but let’s face it, decoding the lyrics of Alt-J is something of an impossible task anyway. This is no better seen in the contradictory erotic images of Every Other Freckle, “Devour me, if you really think you can stomach me.” It is both indigestible and coveted all at the same time.

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It does feel, at times, that the new material is lacking in the punch of the more well known tracks despite the fact that This is All Yours has been streaming online for a couple of weeks before its official release. However, the set is balanced, the jammed-in crowd are never restless, and the sound is just as vibrant as it is on the records.

As the set comes to a close and the band sign off, the strangest of concepts in their writing rings out in the form of The Gospel of John Hurt. Supposedly about the birth scene in Alien, it is subdued and dark, reflected by the guitar crescendo that undulates through the room.

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Returning for their encore Alt-J play their rendition of Bill Withers’ Lovely Day, unrecognisable in its original form, but striking all the same. They swiftly move onto the echoing church bells of Nara with which it is crystal clear that Alt-J are capable of working in every possible genre or idea that can be squeezed into their work without ever being contrived or incompatible.

Their live efforts are seamless and the fans are elated to hear the final sing-a-long track, Breezeblocks. The crowd dances and pulsates as the evening draws to a close. Alt-J’s enthralling live set is the perfect supplement to any musical mood, drawing on samples and sounds that overlap flawlessly.

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Setlist

Hunger of the Pine

Fitzpleasure

Something Good

Left Hand Free

Dissolve Me

Matilda

Bloodflood Pt. 2

(Ripe and Ruin)

Tessellate

Every Other Freckle

Taro

Warm Foothills

The Gospel of John Hurt

Encore:

Lovely Day (Bill Withers cover)

Nara

Breezeblocks

 

Review – Lisa Coghlan

Photos – Steve Gerrard

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