Alt-J At The 9:30 Club, Riding “An Awesome Wave”

I’ll be uploading my recordings of “Something Good”, “Matilda”, and “Taro” sometime soon– look for those links here!

With the various distractions ever present in our lives, Alex and I arrived to the show about halfway through the opening performance of the dreamscape-esque band Hundred Waters. With two-part vocal harmonies and a plethora of crescendo-ing tremolos on the part of the lead female singer Nicole Miglis and her counterpart Sam Moss, the 9:30 Club (with the aid of talented light-smiths) appeared to have been transported to a mystical region of our collective consciousness with roving thoughts and endless terrain. With synthetic beats, a live drummer, and occasionally guitar and bass, the entire performance seemed to fluctuate, with the echoes of the bass and drums pumping through veins in the close-knit space that is General Admission at the 9:30 Club. For a first time listener, I would suggest “Boreal,” a true soundscape of a piece played at the end of their set, amplifying their harmonies and the rise and fall of their tones, even including brief moments of flute playing on the part of Ms. Miglis.

Fast forward about half an hour to the act we’d been waiting for: Alt-J. Coolly walking on stage and assuming their stage positions were (left to right): keyboardist & backup vocalist Gus Unger-Hamilton, lead vocalist and guitarist Joe Newman, guitarist & bassist Gwil Sainsbury, followed by drummer Thom Green, who was situated oddly on the far right side of the stage rather than comfortably behind Mr. Newman as one would assume. The set began with “Intro”, the tite track on their album An Awesome Wave. Throughout the performance of “Hundred Waters,” there was an intriguing backdrop of interwoven branches and twigs, with the ability to see each tree dependent upon its width and the lighting of the stage; with Alt-J now onstage however, it becomes clear: the hand-painted background was very specially crafted to represent the album cover of An Awesome Wave, with a blast of color adding new dimensions to not only the images themselves, but to the performance as a whole. By the time they dove into a classically foot stomping rendition of “Tessellate”, the crowd was caught under the influence of this visual and auditory transposition. For anyone familiar with the band, its sound and soul varies greatly from that of most bands, failing to truly be categorized and instead merely existing, and being felt.

This next statement might catch me some flak, but I’ll say it anyway: Alt-J has a very similar (and altogether different) ability to affect the mind and thought processes in a way I had only previously experienced with Radiohead. Yes, both are British, and yes, both guide the mind along a rather elucidating trip unfrequented in other genres and by other artists, and yet they are very clearly in a realm all their own so far as their sound and creativity goes. Through each level of audio tracking and cadence synthesizing, the band creates an environment and sound which seems to fire all of the right neurons, collaborating rhythmic taps of the heart and foot with winding, melodic, guitar and piano pieces which, when coupled with the intensely unique voice of Mr. Newman, leaves us defenseless against the barrage of notes and necessity to get up and move to the beat.
The band progressed through the evening getting only better, playing their setlist in near album-order, skipping over “Breezeblocks” to get to “Something Good” before slipping it back in at the end of their performance before the encore. They also bumped up “Fitzpleasure”  between “Dissolve Me” and “Matilda.” Perhaps more interestingly, they played one or two songs I didn’t recognize, which is because they’re not on the album! Joining the setlist with the usual suspects were “Ripe & Ruin,” “Buffalo,” and “Hand-Made.”  All-in-all ,the concert was a fantastic experience, with the band performing effortlessly and to perfection combined with the on-stage mood lighting and top-notch visual effects, working together to truly create a different environment and realm of auditory endlessness.

-Jordan Grobe

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