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Alt-J’s Unique Sound Gets Old and New Fans Moving at Stubb’s

By Vince Reid

The best word to describe the experience of seeing alt-J would have to be “Anticipation.” The English indie rock band doesn’t take the stage until two hours after doors, the audience brimming with excitement. The crowd is full of university students, parents to teenagers who dragged them there, and 30-year-olds who have been following the band for years. A concert-goer exclaims, “This is my fourth time seeing them. I love them!”

Following a great opening by the Berlin-based indie band Meagre Martin, alt-J starts their set with the mostly instrumental and somber-toned “Intro” from their 2012 album An Awesome Wave. Ocean blue fog covers the stage, and they don’t enter the stage until a minute into the song. Their music, especially from their 2012 album, is a blend of instrumentals and synth-like sounds that produces almost a cool hum, with the drums keeping a steady, rapid beat. Their song “Something Good” illustrates the band's larger sound very well. It sounds tentative, hopeful, but apprehensive. Anticipating something. The two vocalists’ voices blend exceptionally well, making you think lead vocalist Joe Newman must have somehow doubled his voice. alt-J is nothing if not coherent and concise.

Performing their entire 2012 album for the front half of the set, it is easy to understand how the album catapulted them into popularity. It truly is a no-skip album, from the loving “Matilda,” to the aggressive vocals and satisfying build-up of “Breezeblocks.” The second half of the show, focusing on their other works outside of An Awesome Wave shows the strength of the rest of alt-J’s discography, especially “Every Other Freckle.” And of course, they have to end on one of their most danceable songs, and a notable earworm of the mid 2010s, “Left Hand Free,” ending their set on a high note and leaving the audience satisfied.

Special credits to the lighting designer for the show, be it someone on Stubb's staff or a person in alt-J’s entourage. The music is punctuated by sweeping uses of both cool and warm toned blue-purple lighting, enveloping the listener, and making them feel like each song becomes a representation of their own thoughts, feelings, and state of mind.

All to say, if you have any chance to see alt-J in person, take it. Their music deserves to be experienced live, and by the end of the experience, this charismatic band will have you running to the merchandise table to support them however you can.


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