Alt-J– ‘The Triangle Band’; The symbol produced when holding down the ‘alt’ button and ‘J’ key on a Mac computer pronounced (‘Alt-J’). A symbol chosen by the band as it represents the mathematical symbol for change.
The past 12 months have been a big one for Alt-J. After meeting at Leeds University in 2007 and going under a couple of different monikers on the local scene, they have picked up a major recording deal, headlined national tours and released their critically acclaimed debut album ‘An Awesome Wave’. An album which tonight is played in full as this is a special ‘invite only’ show for fans who brought it via HMV and were entered into a competition to win tickets. This exclusive ticketing system however does not stop people queing at the door to try and buy tickets even though there is none available, As LondOnTheinside arrives at Soho’s busy Borderline venue there are sad faces already being turned away.
Opening tonight are Cave Painting; the same band which has supported Alt-J on their string of regional dates recently if you were lucky enough to get tickets. You may also have seen them at this years Great Escape Festival where they joined tonight’s headliners on the bill.
They come across confidently, producing a beautiful blend of power and atmosphere on stage, never to hard, never too soft. The band have incredibly strong vocal harmonies which they use to glittering effect on a number of tracks. They play for half an hour or so and have the audience foot tapping and head nodding throughout. Various changes in instrumentation and additions in percussion etc throughout make the show both visually and audibly stimulating.
And so at 9.30, a little later than billed, Alt J take to the stage to rapturous applause. They play the album in its entirety, (although not chronologically), with each song lapped up by the audience singing pretty much every word back at them. The bands name is not the only thing meticulously thought out by this talented (if a little geeky) group. First off it must be said that these are four amazing musicians, incredibly technical and intelligent with brilliant harmonising voices to match. They write songs with bizarre structures in unorthodox time signatures with a variety of instrumentation and make it look effortless and strangely normal? Favourites such as ‘Breezeblocks’, the more intimate ‘Matilda’ and ‘Fitzpleasure’ (which includes castanet solo) bring the largest applause of the night. These are joined by a few surprises including a full vocal choir orchestrated by keyboard/synth player Gus Unger-Hamilton joining the band on ‘Tessellate’ and a cellist and violin player also playing on a couple of tracks.
Comparisons have been made to both Radiohead and Django Django but while Alt-J do certainly have links to both they have somehow created there own sub genre they call ‘folk-step’ a kind of grimey sub bass driven harmony accompanied by some strange more folk/world instruments. Tonight’s performance is a flawless one and one which has the band at the top of their game, they thank the audience repeatedly but it should be us that are thanking them for a stand-out free show.
Alt-J are currently one of the best new British bands – LondOnTheInside’s (always flawless) advice is go and see them and purchase their album as soon as you can; you will not be disappointed.