‘∆’ is what you get when click alt and j on a MacBook. Alt-J will now conjure up very different images in your head though. The four-piece band from Leeds have had a phenomenal time since the release of debut album, ‘An Awesome Wave’. Since first single, Breezeblocks, was released in May 2012, I’d been wanting to experience the band live. I finally got to do so on Monday 13th May at one of my favourite venues, Nottingham Rock City. After spending the majority of the day perusing Nottingham’s sights (lunch in Hooters) and enjoying the delight’s on offer from Greg James and Zane Lowe on the hotel radio; Seth (fellow Mojo20-er), myself and our trusty hip-flask’s headed to the venue. We got there in good time but unfortunately missed the first support act on offer, Hundred Waters. This was due to us meeting some fellow Alt-J fans who also shared a love of The Office. After smoking and doing an impromptu group rendition of “The Brent Dance” outside, we headed inside to catch a couple of songs from the second support act, Princess Chelsea. I’d not heard of them before the night but from what I heard, they seemed really good and having travelled all of the way from their home country of New Zealand, I was more than happy to clap at the end of their set.
After a brief visit to the bar, we headed back in to the crowds to await Alt-J’s entrance. It wasn’t long until the lights dimmed and the crowd went, what I can only describe as “absolutely mental” as the guys walked on to the sounds of ‘Intro’. A perfect song for the introduction to what was promising to be a brilliant gig. When an album has ‘interlude’ tracks on them, it’s often hard to envisage how they could work in a live situation as let’s face it, these tracks are usually there as filler pieces. ‘Interlude I’ however was executed perfectly and was a refreshing experience for everyone to just stand and watch for a few moments, everyone seemed relaxed. This relaxation period didn’t last long at all though as the brought out one of the big gun’s. It was time for us all to make triangle shapes with our hands and appreciate “Tessellate”. Tessellate was easily one of my favourite moment’s of the gig ; the melodies, the vocals and atmosphere were incredible. A sold out crowd showed an insane amount of appreciation, singing every word in time with the band. I can only imagine what a humbling feeling this must be to have your songs sung back to you when you’ve worked so hard on creating them.
The same happened during other big tracks such as ‘Fitzpleasure’ and ‘Something Good’. Both of which were again, performed flawlessly. Tracks which are perhaps a little lesser known, ‘MS’, ‘Bloodflood’ and ‘Buffalo’ were all met with dancing, screaming, singing and enjoyment but whilst watching the band, I noticed that they were now doing these sort of shows effortlessly, whether this could be conceived as boredom or just a talent in that performing no longer takes as much work as it used to because they’ve mastered performing live, either way, the crowd were happy. With scenes that Slipknot would’ve been proud of (moshpits and drinks being thrown everywhere), it was clear that everybody was waiting for what would be the biggest song of the night, ‘Breezeblocks’. Before this however, one of the slower songs off the album, ‘Matilda’. Matilda has been a favourite of mine from my first listen of the album and seeing it live didn’t change this. Despite being overplayed on the radio (like many of Alt-J’s songs), the crowd still sung every word. This song had the power to calm. To calm the moshpits down and people now seemed to enjoy their drinks rather than hurling them over the people in front of them. Peace had been restored.
As you can imagine, with the next track, Breezeblocks, the atmosphere changed dramatically. Before the first line had even been finished, my hair was soaked in Carlsberg, I was being pushed around and the moshpits were back. If you can’t beat them however, you have to join them. Jumping up and down to this incredible song with the whole of Rock City was a memorable experience. With the odd swig of my hip-flask to refresh myself in between the strongest parts of the song, I managed to survive the shoving and pushing. At the end of the song, applause was given. A long applause. Alt-J didn’t seem to mind embracing this, the energy was definitely at an all time high. Looking at the time, I could sense that it would soon be time for the last song, I wasn’t sure what song they’d choose but it turned out to be ‘Taro’. A very underrated song off the album which transfers live beautifully. Luckily it’s not really a song you can attempt to mosh too, instead, the crowd seemed to sway together in unison and then dance together during the more uplifting parts of the songs. When this ended, further applause was given. And that was it. I’d finally seen Alt-J live.
Further highlights throughout the set were the bands cover of ‘Real Hero’ which featured in the film, Drive, starring Ryan Gosling. They also gave a very unique mashup of Kylie Minogue’s “Slow” and Dr Dre’s “Still D.R.E.” to create “Slow Dre”. Overall, the gig was brilliant. The atmosphere, flawless live performance and the drinks which were consumed afterwards all created a memorable night for myself and I assume, everyone else in attendance. Oh yeah…I also met the keyboard player, Gus Unger-Hamilton in Rescue Rooms. Bloody nice bloke.
Words by Robert Smith. (@robertmsmith)