After a triumphant summer of having their festival performances being talked up by just about every major music publication, alt-J have embarked upon their biggest tour yet and opted to try their hand at tackling the UK’s arena circuit. Monday night saw them make their debut in Glasgow’s SSE Hydro, a decision which came as somewhat of a surprise upon its initial announcement, but now makes perfect sense in hindsight: despite the crowd barely filling up to the full capacity of 13,000 (which actually worked in the band’s favour – the place thereby felt almost as exclusive and intimate as if it were in a small club) the show the Leeds trio put on could simply not have been done justice in any other venue.
Opening with the introductory track from last year’s This Is All Yours, the atmosphere is set immediately as an enthusiastic crowd bear witness to the silhouettes of all four members stood in their respective places on stage, while a spotlight hits them on and off in time to the song’s beat. It’s a captivating experience, with every single person’s attention being snatched instantly: adoring cheers come and go, but most are simply stood in silent awe (which is a sight to behold in its own right, considering this is a Glasgow crowd).
They then waste no time in jumping into their most recent single, ‘Every Other Freckle’, by the end of which frontman Joe Newman fails to stifle a giggle as his voice is nearly drowned out by the sheer volume of the crowd. Things turn sweetly chill with the beloved ‘Something Good’, then pick right back up again as keyboardist and fellow vocalist Gus Unger-Hamilton, along with touring bandmate Cameron Knight, get the whole room clapping along to the infectious rhythm of ‘Left Hand Free’. The latter song is perhaps their catchiest and most exuberant to date, and therefore has no trouble quickly turning every relaxed sway and head bob into one massive happy groove, complete with hands and beer-filled cups waving about in the air with careless abandon.
About midway through the set, Gus bashfully addresses the crowd and thanks everyone for coming to see them. It’s ridiculous how humble they are, considering how well things have been going for them since the release of An Awesome Wave just three years ago. Despite their quietness, however, they never once feel distant from their audience – though crowd interactions are far and few, all are sweet and full of fun, such as when T-shirts are tossed into a sea of fans during ‘Bloodflood’ or when towards the end of ‘Taro’, the set’s penultimate song, Joe finally makes the triangle symbol with his own hands that has become alt-J fans’ answer to the Belieber heart.
Ultimately it’s the softer and more moody songs that make the biggest impact, from the achingly bittersweet sing-alongs of ‘Matilda’ and ‘Breezeblocks’, to the ominously haunting brass of ‘Hunger of the Pine’, to the band’s chilling hums against the jungle drums of ‘Fitzpleasure’. The mix between colourful neon backdrops and shadow-tinged spotlights are certainly a beautiful accompaniment and only add to the spectacle, but it’s the gorgeously crooning vocals and powerfully cinematic sound design that really prove why alt-J are becoming such a renowned live act.
Words by Samantha King