Alt-J, Capital FM Arena, Nottingham, 08.12.2015

Reviewed by James Lavender

In recent years, there have been two alternative rock bands that have managed to reach mainstream audiences and who look like they are going to be staying around. They are Foals and Alt-J. Whilst the former are known more for rocking out, the latter have come up with some of the most original, challenging and intricate indie pop music of the moment. Ever since winning the Mercury Music Prize in 2012 for their debut album An Awesome Wave, they have gone from strength to strength. After a successful summer touring the festival circuit, the highlight of which being a slot on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury, they have been doing an Autumn/Winter tour which has culminated in the final night at the Capital FM Arena in Nottingham.

Supporting them tonight were Ghostpoet and The Horrors. Twice Mercury Music Prize nominated Ghostpoet easily take things in his stride. He has a relaxed rapport for his audience and knows how to get them going. He draws on the material from his most recent album ‘Shedding Skin’ and hits the spot with tunes such as ‘X Marks The Spot’ and ‘Off Peak Dreams’. His spoken-word lyrics and rhythmic tunes are a clear indicator of why he is the darling of music critics everywhere. In contrast, The Horrors were, well, horrific. There seemed to be no life or energy with the band. They may have come a long way from their garage punk/goth rock routes and crafted a more popular sound, but to me they still sounded like a second-rate Echo and the Bunnymen tribute band.

As for the main act themselves, I was expecting Alt-J to replicate their chilled-out, well-crafted songs with the minimalistic stage-presence which they seem to revel in. What I got was the spaceship landing in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The lighting was incredible. They were moving around in lines, spinning round, flashing brightly; it was like a UFO landing. As soon as they launch into the Intro from This Is All Yours, followed by ‘Every Other Freckle’, the mixture of lighting and well-crafted, catchy tunes entrances the audience for the rest of the concert. The band have two hugely enjoyable albums upon which to draw songs. There were so many great tunes performed, but some of my personal favourite tunes were the easy-going ‘Something Good’, the anthemic ‘Left Hand Free’ and the humorously titled ‘The Gospel of John Hurt’.

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What makes Alt-J distinctive from their contemporaries are their unique harmonies, which sound like a cross between a barbershop quartet and a Gregorian monk chant, particularly on ‘Interlude 1 (The Ripe & Ruin)’. The best example of these harmonies is on ‘Fitzpleasure’, in which the singers Joe Newman and Gus Unger-Hamilton belt out ‘Tra-La’ between them in a sort of battle between the left and right sides of the arena. They get an amazing reaction from the audience, who throw themselves into singing and waving their arms in the air; creating a real atmosphere in the arena.

They made a triumphant encore, launching straight into the Miley Cyrus-sampling ‘Hunger of the Pine’, followed by ‘Warm Foothills’, ‘Taro’, and final finishing with ‘Breezeblocks’, with everyone joining in with the refrain at the end. It was uplifting end to a great performance, and the best thing about Alt-J is they are only just getting started.

5 out of 5

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