Let me start this by saying that I am amazed. Not because Alt–J put on an excellent show – I had read some glowing reviews of recent shows they’d played overseas, and had seen clips of the band playing on YouTube and knew they would – the thing that really amazed me was how much people in this city seem to absolutely love Alt–J, and I really mean love them.
The band’s debut album An Awesome Wave is a study in angular, edgy, interesting songs that don’t necessarily leap off the page (so to speak) at the first listen but gently burrow their way under the skin to the point where you can’t seem to get them out of your head. This is an album for thinking people, which is why it has been branded an “art–rock” album I suppose – because no one really knows what else to call it.
I guess what I’m trying to get at is that because An Awesome Wave isn’t your standard Indie fare, full of different colours and textures, I figured people wouldn’t get it. That probably makes me sound like a bit of a snob, but I’m just being honest, I really thought Alt–J would have a tough time of it. And I could not have been more wrong.
The sense of excitement in the Arts Factory as local opening act New Gods worked their way through an interesting, if somewhat ambitious set, was unlike anything I’ve witnessed at the venue before. New Gods have got all the weapons at their disposal to carve themselves out a niche in the Sydney music scene, they’re all technically proficient musicians, but I couldn’t really get past how much the drummer looked like James Van Der Beek in Dawson’s Creek. Besides even they knew that everyone was only there for one reason – and it had nothing to do with them.
When Alt–J took the stage, you’d have thought it was The Beatles who’d shown up. It’s amazing what a little love from Triple J can do for your profile, although I imagine being English probably helps as well. Large tattooed men fawned shoulder to shoulder with 18 year old girls, squealing platitudes and protestations of undying love. Large sections of the audience belted out every lyric in time with lead singer Joe Newman, who looked almost bemused at the reception. Lighters were broken out during the bands A Capella number Interlude 1 and it seemed like everyone in the whole crowd were singing along, it was quite eerie, strange and I must confess rather beautiful.
Perhaps the best thing about seeing Alt–J play live is the fact that every sound you hear is being made by somebody on the stage, there are no loops or samplers, just live musicianship. This is no mean feat considering how dense the sounds on the album are and how well they are translated live. Songs like Tesselate, Breezeblocks, Dissolve Me and Matilda all drew rapturous applause from the adoring crowd, who were awarded for their devotion by the humbleness of the band members and the glowing smiles of singer Joe Newman, who in between songs would constantly thank the crowd. “You guys are amazing!”
Humble is a good word for it actually, and I must admit it’s nice to see in a young band. It can be galling to see a group of people who by virtue of one album are suddenly thrown into the limelight and adoration of sudden success and act like they were born for it. When Alt–J finished Taro, the last song of their encore, Joe Newman took off his guitar and smiled as a guy in the front row shook his hand, and said “Thank you guys so much, I can’t thank you enough. You’ve made this one of the best shows of our whole career and we’re just so thankful to you!”
It was a great moment, because you knew he was being genuine. Something that is pretty rare in music these days.