Riding the wave of success from their latest album RELAXER, alt-J were visibly excited when taking the stage of the Kingston Hippodrome. It was an incredibly intimate gig; I found myself no more than three metres from the band. They had nowhere to hide in this venue – the question was, would such a revealing setting impact the performance?
The setup of alt- J was astonishingly simple for a band reknowned for a producing a plethora of ethereal sounds. Singer Joe Newman held a guitar and stood before a mysterious pedalboard, whilst vocalist and keyboard player Gus Unger-Hamilton had only a couple of small keyboards and a microphone. I was curious to see how all these elements would combine to create the group’s biggest songs.
The answer is: wonderfully. Dissolve Me was a perfect harmony of guitar and keyboard, its uplifting melodies winning over the whole crowd. The symphonic vocals of both Newman and Unger-Hamilton blended beautifully, bringing an incredible depth to the tune. However, lest we forget the key role that drummer Thom Green played throughout the set.
Green’s drumkit was surprisingly minimalist, consisting of not much more than a snare, bongos and an electronic drum pad. This did not limit his capabilities. He was darting from one end of the kit to the other, changing time signatures like nobody’s business. Green would sustain an infectious groove and had us all nodding our heads to the rhythm. It was clear that the melodic side of alt-J was strongly complimented by their drummer’s efforts, their tightness as instrumentalists truly phenomenal.
The light show was a noteworthy point. The beams would swirl and wink at the audience in time to the music, yet seemed to take on a life of their own. The lights would change the ambience in the room with a single colour variation, working hand in hand with the mood of each song. In a small venue like the Kingston Hippodrome, it can be difficult to enrapt your crowd in the show, but alt-J certainly succeeded.
One personal highlight of the set was the explosive performance of Left Hand Free. Newman’s arpeggiation of chords with finger picking through the show was not to be to taken lightly, though he seemed to revel in playing the trademark riff that came with their hit tracks. In addition, every note was nailed and his voice was indistinguishable from the record. When all playing together, alt-J were able to leave a strong impression on me. Individually, each member excelled in their instrument and dripped with potential.
Overall, alt-J’s gig at the Hippodrome was a top draw performance. Everything from the song choices to their down-to-earth attitude was professional and engaging to watch. The only gripe I have is that their set was bizarrely short. The show was over in a mere forty-five minutes, meaning that we felt a bit short changed at the end. This was especially an issue as there had not even been any support acts. It was all a bit peculiar.
Despite this, the night was one to remember for everybody in attendance. Next time alt-J are playing near you, don’t miss out.