Alt-J kicked off their latest round of North American touring with a two night stay in Boston’s Paradise Rock Club. Both nights sold out. On the latter of the two nights, the band took the stage to a motley crowd of young hipster mixed in with a large quotient of curious onlookers, mainly a 50+ crowd that seemed completely unexpected. As Alt-J launched into “❦ (Ripe & Ruin)” from their sole album An Awesome Wave, it clicked in my head why the 50+ crowd was there. There is an element of Alt-J that is friendly to this audience. As three members of the group took to their mics and acapella harmonized syncopated words, it was like watching young English madrigal singers, each one coy and awkward.
The instruments got fired up for “Tessellate,” one of the grooviest tracks on the album. As the crowd grinded, Alt-J seemed to be frozen. Gus Unger-Hamilton being stuck behind keyboards and drummer, Thom Green both had excuses, but the rest of the band, not so much. This seemed to be the band’s M.O. through the first four songs or so. “Buffalo” finally got bassist, Gwil Sainsbury moving. Although moving mostly consisted of stepping away from the microphone every so often and closer to the drum stand, it was a good first step.
The set slowed down once again with “Fitzpleasure.” Again acapella harmonies had to be performed but unlike the opener, the band members were not on the same page. As harmonizing seemed to elude Unger-Hamilton, it was a harsh realization that the studio magic created by Alt-J on An Awesome Wave was not so easy to recreate live. Although throughout the night their musicianship remained impeccable, failures of vocal harmonies became more and more common. Even the set’s closer “Breezeblocks” had its share of fault, fortunately most of the crowd were singalong too loud to notice.
As the boys exited the stage with big smiles for the crowd, it became obvious that these are humble and some what awkward guys. They did not quite know what to do with themselves so Sainsbury flashed a peace sign to the crowd, Unger-Hamilton adjusted the beanie he kept on his head the entire show. It was like watching high schoolers exiting a talent show stage. Much of the crowd dissipated having heard the song they came to hear but the band returned to the stage for their encore. Unger-Hamilton and singer, Joe Newman returned at first to play album closer, “Handmade.” The track a harmony-filled, classical guitar-steeped ballad, although beautiful was not the roaring reintroduction the band needed. They then launched into the album’s second to last song, “Taro.” The midtempo ballad was livelier than “Handmade” but still did not elicit the same reaction from the crowd that songs like “Fitzpleasure” or “Breezeblocks” did. Although the song did give the band the opportunity to extend the ending a little so people could get some last ditch dancing in.
Still after the encore, you could help but feel a little let down. The set was roughly constructed of their debut album, almost in order. There was no real climax to the set, just some grooving and some awkwardness. The members of the band never made in between song banter for the entire show, so any hope of getting a glimpse of personality was dashed. In the end, it came across a little too scripted. They should become a great live act though. The instrumental precision was there and besides a few vocal harmony miscues, the music sounded album worthy. As they adjust to fame and write more songs, they should turn into as enjoyable live as on record.
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