It was a given that Alt-J’s first-ever show in Vancouver would blow minds – probably even the minds of the yappy ones blathering through the pristine, quieter moments. Their rise has been accelerated, their touring incessant, their 14-16 songs played one trillion times live in the past year, their shows, like tonight, selling out large rooms and theatres.
Multiple tours under their belts already has honed the University of Leeds four-piece into the kind of note-perfect performers you’d expect. This is, after all, a bunch of talented chaps whose debut won the Mercury and got nominated for the Brits. An Awesome Wave – dynamic, expansive, clever, well-produced – captured my attention and was by far my most-played album of 2012.
Joe Newman and Gus Unger-Hamilton’s harmonies raise hairs on arms. Thom Sonny Green is the heavy hitting, heavy metal drummer applying his art in an artsy band, resulting in a fascinating blend of styles. He is truly, truly a great drummer. Gwil Sainsbury – whose 25th birthday was fêted on stage with a cake – layers out the harmonies, supports on bass and rocks a pair of castanets. And let’s just mention Hamilton once more, the Nord Viking whose keyboard deck powers the whole lush affair.
At the Commodore they sounded perfect, at Coachella they earned the following. They’ve earned it, they’ve earned it, they’ve earned it.
But lest I disappear too far up my own colon – it’s time for real talk. This is now the third time I’ve seen Alt-J in three different countries. I’ve seen them at a festival Belgium, as an opener in Seattle and a headliner in Vancouver (still kicking myself for missing them in London last June). They sound beautiful each time.
But while everyone was busy loving them for the first time in Vancouver, I couldn’t help but think that this was not the humbled, grinning, hungry band I saw at Pukkelpop in August – the genuinely gobsmacked-at-the-attention tent-fillers. They’re now a bunch of pros. Okay, awesome. But each time I see Alt-J I sort of hope that the next time I see Alt-J they start fucking with their sound a bit – if only for their own sanity.
I know they can do it, and well, too; “Fitzpleasure” is already four songs in one, so why not start decon- and reconstructing? Get loose. I mean, Christ, Joe sings “in your snatch fits pleasure/broom-shaped pleasure”, and that’s pretty loose, so go for it, lad! Three shows in – okay, it’s not 300 – and I’ve yet to see Alt-J let loose. (Though a fab little mashup created back in October that they call “Slow Dre” – mixing Kylie Minogue and Dr Dre – has now made into the setlist).
I want to know what happens if Alt-J loosen the reigns. I wonder if they do, too.
But I also know that the rigors of touring mean that you can barely sort out what day it is, let alone create new structures for your music. People don’t want to see a Cubist Mona Lisa, do they? They want to queue for the real thing. I get it.
So what’s a band to do? If they can’t get off the road for a bit, then they need to get muddy on it.
After the show, as we were discussing the NEXT Vancouver show upcoming in just 5 short months, I joked with Thom and Gus that someone should take them off the road, and both laughed. Of course, I will be at the next show – 5th row I think – and I will never get tired of hearing anything from An Awesome Wave. But I hope that in time, Alt-J get enough time off to plug into the confidence they’ve earned, and power into stranger territory. I know they can. And that’s where things will get really interesting once again.
Was the show excellent? Of course it was. Alt-J can do no wrong; and that’s just the point. I’d like to see them try. \m/
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