alt-J | Live at Forum Theatre

October 6th, 2014 | Forum Theatre

In their fourth visit to our fair shores in as many years, alt-J came to Australia for a whistle-stop tour this week and played a scintillating show at Melbourne’s beautifully classic Forum Theatre on Monday night. After releasing their second record This Is All Yours just a few weeks ago, the band’s performance demonstrated the growth and beauty of their new tracks in the flesh. The Yorkshire-formed band are easily one of my favourite acts of the last few years and my high expectations were easily met; their performance basically left me floating on a cloud. Gorgeous vocals from Joe Newman and Gus Unger-Hamilton paired with simple yet beautiful lighting to create a dream-like scene. Drummer Thom Green’s eclectic beats were excellent, tight to match Unger-Hamilton’s mad keys, while touring member Cameron Knight covered bass, guitar and sampler duties. Switching between tracks from their Mercury Prize-winning debut album An Awesome Wave and their brand spanking new record, the band took a (mostly) captive audience on a journey through a soundscape that has become entirely their own: off-kilter beats, unusual keys, great bass lines and eerie vocals that all seem to simultaneously clash and yet fit together perfectly.

Unfortunately, the experience was somewhat limited for me and the other punters in my area, thanks to two girls who felt it was okay for them to have a gossip sesh all the way through the show – they basically paid $85 for a catch up over coffee. Having their conversation in my ear while trying to listen to the Newman’s soaring voice was frustrating to say the least, and they copped several irate glares from the people around them. If you were the girls in the left by the stairs just after the bar, then shame on you, please learn some etiquette or else don’t bother going to a gig again. I tried to ignore them and concentrate on what was happening in front of me and mostly succeeded, as luckily they appeared to be an anomaly rather than the norm for this crowd.

 alt-J opened with lead single from the new album, Hunger Of The Pine. The crowd for some reason were not ready for the song to start and you could hear the murmur of voices throughout. The band felt stiff and distant, which made the song really hard to get involved in. This was a massive disappointment as I love the song so much, and can imagine how it would go off as an opener in other situations, but on this night with this crowd it just didn’t feel right. I was worried that the whole night would be downhill from there but then Fitzpleasure, my favourite song by alt-J, kicked in and everything was right with the world once again. After that the guys went from strength to strength, with older tracks like Something Good, Matilda, Dissolve Me and Taro interspersed with songs from their new release, including the beautiful Nara, Every Other Freckle and The Gospel Of John Hurt. We also got to travel through alt-J’s own journey through the songs Bloodflood and Bloodflood Pt II. These tracks come from two different albums but the themes and story have been carried over through the band’s development, and Bloodflood Pt II has obviously come together as a result of the band’s growing confidence in themselves and their music since the release of their debut and becoming a worldwide sensation.

Also in the set list was another single from the new album, Left Hand Free, which is a track that is so unlike alt-J in its technique and lyricism, and yet is still a catchy song with fun summer vibes beckoning. I did find Newman’s vocals a little jarring in a live setting just because they are so different to the smoothness of his voice in their other tracks, but I like the diversity that it shows. It may sound odd but I think of the track like a green M’n’M in a bowl of blue ones – it’s a bit different but in the end I’ll eat them all anyway because they’re chocolate. Plus, one can never go wrong with an abundant use of cowbell, so this song is pretty good in my opinion. Warm Foothills showed off Newman’s whistling skills, and the perfect partnership that is Newman and Unger-Hamilton’s voices were put quite literally in the spotlight in the Interlude before launching into Tessellate.

The guys then ended their show with the fantastic Breezeblocks, a song that never fails to put me in a good mood (even when the lines “Please don’t go, I love you so” felt so relevant to my own life that I’d almost burst) and which got the biggest response from the crowd. The smiles on punters’ faces as they were leaving the venue afterwards were incalculable and I could see that it wasn’t just me up there on Cloud 9. So thank you, alt-J, for yet another excellent show, and I sincerely hope that when I see you next the crowd gives you all the respect that your beautiful music deserves.

 alt-J will be back in Australia at the end of 2014 to play Falls Festivals, Field Day and Southbound festivals.

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