I can still remember the first time I heard alt-J: I was a senior in high school cruising through the suburbs in my parents’ Honda. I’m sure I’m not the only one to remember my first alt-J experience, because the band’s music has a game-changing quality.
Hearing their first album was really a defining moment for many music lovers. Joe Newman’s otherworldly vocals captivated listeners and helped propel songs like “Breezeblocks” and “Fitzpleasure” to the tops of indie playlists everywhere. The group’s sophomore album, This is All Yours (2014), proved to be a commercial success and even earned a Grammy nomination for best alternative music album.
Thursday night at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium, openers San Fermin drew the crowd in, bathing the audience in violet light. Their set was well-rounded and their talent was obvious, but while San Fermin gave the crowd glimpses of a great performance, I found myself wishing I could have seen them in a smaller venue.
Promptly afterwards, alt-J came out and spread out along the width of the stage. A soft instrumental reminiscent of “Arrival in Nara” resonated throughout the venue, quickly giving way to the methodic beat of “Something Good” off of the band’s first album. At this point, even people in the upper level were standing up.
As the band launched into “Bloodfood,” they started to depart from the sound of their music on record. Joe Newman’s distortion-laid guitar parts had hints of Hendrix, and the drummer Thom Green’s fills recalled the booming drum sound of the 1980s.
The show’s lighting was enormously impressive—almost as much a part of the experience as was the music. The four musicians standing downstage told a story sonically, while technology provided a wealth of visual stimulation. The LED backdrop provided stunning visuals for the audience by using stark, chromatic themes to accentuate the different songs.
I had only one complaint: with such high production value, alt-J must have been incredibly well rehearsed, and it showed. There was a lack of spontaneity, and towards the middle of the concert, I felt a short-lived lull. Then, however, the show climaxed with spears of yellow light illuminating the stage and the crowd; the heavy bass of “Fitzpleasure” was impossible not to groove to.
Alt-J left the stage unceremoniously, but you could feel the inevitability of an encore in the air. The auditorium fell silent as Newman slowly murmured, “Sleeplessly embracing,” to start the encore with “Hunger of the Pine.” As the song built, the lights picked up speed. The audience was captivated, swaying robotically with the music. “Breezeblocks” rounded out the encore, with narrow rays of white light encircling the band members; by the end, the crowd was blanketed in light as people screamed along: “Please don’t go, I love you so!”
Phil Levine is a student at the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities.