Alt-J floods Riverside Theater with “Something Good”
The Mercury Prize-winners brought the sound of their debut album "An Awesome Wave" fully to bear on Milwaukee Friday night.
Once you hear Alt-J’s unpredictable hip-hop synth beats, it’s hard to get that sound out of your mind. The first time I heard them was through my car stereo, and the unique sound caught my attention almost as abruptly as their name later would – a reference to the key shortcut required to type a ∆ symbol on a Mac.
Most of North America was captivated by Alt-J when they won the 2012 British Mercury Prize with their debut album An Awesome Wave. Alt-J’s multi-layered lyrics, infectious sounds and impeccable riffs evoke a sense of freedom that strips you of your inhibitions. At the Riverside Theater Friday night, they brought those musical elements in full force.
Popular hit “Tessellate” pulled concertgoers to their feet immediately. As the slow pace of the keyboards and drums kicked in, fans were overcome with excitement. When frontman Joe Newman sang out, “Triangles are my favorite shape” the crowd roared and raised their hands creating the bands logo, ∆. It was as if there was a dream-like haze surrounding the stage with all eyes on the band. The sold-out crowd abandoned their seats, filling the aisles filled with beers raised, heads boppin’ and feet dancing. It was no surprise that the concert had been moved twice due to overcrowding; everyone in the packed theater was thrilled to be there.
As the band slowed things down with “Something Good” and “Dissolve Me”, lights dimmed and candles surrounding the band lit up the stage. Everyone took their seat and embraced the intimacy of the moment. Even with 2,460 bodies surrounding you, there was an immediate sense of closeness.
“Fitzpleasure” brought an eruption of joy and energy back to the crowd. If you weren’t on your feet before, you were now. The echoes and harmonies combined with layering lyrics were undeniably mesmerizing. As the crowd sang out “Tra la la, Tra la, la” the drop of the drums vibrated throughout and cheers overtook Riverside.
One of the favorites of the night, “Matilda” gave fans a chance to catch their breath. There’s a distinction in Joe Newman’s voice that can’t be found anywhere else and it was obvious throughout the slow-tempo song, as Newman whispered “And she needs you, this is for Matilda.”
The set ended on “Breezeblocks,” a surreal experience that culminated with the crowd singing louder and louder even as the band became quieter and quieter.
“Taro” completed the encore with the echoes of hip-hop and Indian beats that crescendos into hushed “oh’s.” No one wanted the night to end, in particular a female ticket holder that jumped on stage and began dancing erratically before leaping back into the crowd. Soon the stage was bombarded with fans, and in most cases, bands would exit immediately, but in good form Alt-J gave hugs before departing for the night.
It’s funny that six months ago I couldn’t have told you who Alt-J was, but since becoming a staple on my iPod, I couldn’t refrain from crying out for more throughout the night just like the rest of the audience. With every artist, there is skepticism, “Will they sound as good live as they do on their album?” Answer: a resounding yes. Alt-J is a band completely natural in the spotlight, and if we’re lucky they’ll be shining that spotlight back on a Milwaukee stage sometime soon.