Alt-J 2014

Last night, ALT-J played an exclusive show at Berlin’s Lido before their world tour starting early next year. Coming on stage to the shadowy sounds of their first single release since their debut album, Hunger of the Pine suspends the audience in deep bass; we’re all eagerly waiting to see how they’ll deliver their newest album on stage. Joe Newman’s sensual vocals creep in – right off the bat, he’s a little off-key.

Gus (Unger-Hamilton), Joe and the band’s new bassist (who’s nervous but perfectly capable) stand shoulder to shoulder and rather statically on stage. They drum, strum and sing through a crowd-pleasing collection of songs, including ‘an old song’ Matilda and recent releases Left Hand Free and Every Other Freckle. Once or twice, they engage the audience in a sing-along as well as a hands-in-the-air clap-along; it’s well meaning but it’s terribly awkward and lacks conviction. As a result of a timing mistake, Gus cuts Joe off during the intro of Tessellate and they have to start over. It adds a bit of comic relief to the otherwise stoic affair. They try again, get it right and receive a round of applause from the audience.

Joe eventually loosens up a little during the show, Gus remains rigid, the new guy’s nice to look at (Cameron Knight, we’ve been told) and drummer Thom Green along with intense facial expressions does deliver a solid performance – unfortunately he’s squished in the back corner of the stage and we can barely see him. Bloodflood Pt.2 is one of my favourite songs of the year and I’m eager to see what it’ll sound like live, whether the lustrous piano sounds and ambling synths will engulf me more than they do at home on my average-priced speakers. Turns out, they don’t. This is the first time I’ve seen ALT-J live and opinions on whether they’re good or not live have been split ever since they came onto the scene. I enjoy ALT-J’s music on record; live it just doesn’t quite translate. From start to finish, from top to bottom, they’re undeniably an album band.

Here, during one of their first shows post-sophomore-album-release, they’re infinitely better at their old tracks; the new ones are still a little shakey. The expression, practice makes perfect, comes to mind. (Which certainly applies if you’re not very good at said thing to start with.)

Their four-track encore includes song-everyone’s-waiting-for Breezeblocks and their cover of Bill Withers’ Lovely Day, which acts as a bonus track to This Is All Yours. It’s a decent cover; I’ll give them that. At just over an hour, the show surprise in length. It’s a small affair, there’s only a couple of hundred people in the audience. Their upcoming shows, across the globe, has them playing in venues with a capacity of tens of thousands. How will the four-piece fare? To quote a further expression: only time will tell. Find the German dates, presented by NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION, below.

NBHAP Presents: Alt-J

07.02.2015 – DE – Offenbach – Stadthalle
08.02.2015 – DE – Cologne – Palladium
09.02.2015 – DE – Hamburg – Docks
11.02.2015 – DE – Berlin – Columbiahalle
17.02.2015 – DE – Munich – Zenith