Gig Review: Alt-J


O2 Academy, Glasgow

By Silja Slepnjov

2014-09-18 21.10.10An Alt-J gig has to be the biggest oxymoron in the world – grimy, sweaty and loud; unearthly, marvellously clever and transfixing at the same time. Needless to say, it works.
The sold out show in Glasgow was the first in line in their ‘This Is All Yours Tour’, covering the UK and then heading out to North America and the EU. I went to see them the last time they were in Glasgow, back in May 2013, and I have to say, there is a marked difference in both sound, planning and presence.
The Academy, as a venue, of course is brilliant – and the fact that it was packed even before the support act had taken the stage increased the anticipation and buzz tenfold. The warm-up act, Marika Hackman, was spot on – in the same vein but different enough to hold interest. Although she fell into the more ‘ethereal and dark’ category, with a remarkable resemblance to Florence Welsh, with maybe an added rock edge, the interesting riffs and banging drums struck the perfect balance between hyping up the crowd but not draining them of energy. If I got the chance, I would definitely go and see her play her own show. Hopefully after a better sound check though – while the overall vibe and sound were good, the vocals and even her introducing herself, was impossible to catch (apparently we weren’t the only ones, it took the lassies behind us a solid 20 minute Google’ing session to find the name).
And then it was time for Alt-J. The opener, ‘Hunger of the Pine’ was another excellent choice – rich and mystic, an almost religious epic, gradually building up, with the guys themselves only silhouettes in smoke and red lights grasped in an instant. The band was very conscious of the fact that the full album itself had not been released before the gig date, and had obviously built their set list accordingly, following up with Fitzpleasure and Something Good, topping it up with definitely the most danceable track from ‘This Is All Yours’, Left Hand Free, where the trademark Glaswegian crowd insanity really exploded, along with drummer Thom Green. Even the people who’d bought seats where lifted from their thrones, if not during Left Hand Free then definitely with the whirling, cutesy Dissolve Me. This mix of old and new tunes continued throughout the set, creating a nice alteration of peaks and breathers. There was an impressive amount of sing-along moments, considering Joe Newman’s diction manipulation.
10706615_729848090420845_783491828_nTaro was a real highlight, from Newman and Unger-Hamilton’s perfect harmonies to the impressive ethno-electric visuals. At this point, the guys next to us (who’d lit up a joint 20 minutes earlier) looked like they were transported not just to 7th but 9th heaven. Seemed like everyone else had tagged along on their trip too.
The few moments that I actually remembered to consciously pay attention, did reveal a bit of a foreign element on stage. Cameron Knight, the support musician brought in for the tour after the departure of bassist Gwil Sainsbury, did not quite blend in with the rest of the band – and not in an entirely good way. Not that there was anything amiss skill wise, everything was executed meticulously, even the compulsory ‘nod my head to this’. It was just plainly obvious that he was playing the songs, rather than being ‘in’ them, the lack of that sense of comfort that comes from ownership of having created what you’re performing did not serve him well. To be fair, it was only the first performance of the tour and Knight did look more and more part of the band with every song.
What’s most important, the crowd was truly in love, if not at the start, then definitely by the end.