Alt-J at Olympia Theatre (Review and Photos)

Alt-J at The Olympia Theatre on May 3rd 2013

Alt-J take to the stage, navigating their way through a forest of light stands to the front of the Olympia. They seem terribly polite as they acknowledge the raucous welcome of the crowd, a crowd which has already made up their mind that this was an epic gig. Dublin must be a great city in which to either start or finish a tour.

There is a heady mix of hipsters in the crowd; horn-rimmed glasses, impressive moustaches and hand-knitted leisure wear. One would expect nothing less. This is the kind of music that keeps them awake at night; too new to classify, too original to label and yet so full of old things and nostalgia so as to make every note a reference to a thousand memories. As far as I can make out, hipsters are cool people disguised as nerds. The delightful irony here is that the four members of Alt-J are nerds disguised as hipsters, which is infinitely more cool.

One of the defining features of nerdness is the ability to focus, and in so doing immerse oneself so entirely in something so as to become an absolute master of that thing.  Good news for us as the focus of these four friends for the last few years has evidently been the crafting of wonderful music. Tesselate echoes around the room and there is no way to describe the sound in terms of other sounds. His voice mesmerises you and starts to sound like it belongs to someone else as it punctures the pauses, pursued by a delicate staccato of drums.  Something Good levitates the crowd, igniting them in rapturous waves before Buffalo’s xylophone coaxes them back down to earth with whispered prayer. Any lingering fears that something would get lost in transition, that they wouldn’t sound good live are now banished: they sound better.

Rumour has it when Alt-J practiced in halls while at the University of Leeds, they had to keep it so quiet that as their sound developed, it was characterised by a significant lack of bass – guitar and drums. If so, they may now be over-compensating. Two six foot, six-bank, sub woofers stand sentry on either side of stage and send out the kind of nerve shredding bass that boils blood vessels and vibrates through your bones before your brain even has the chance to register the noise as an actual sound. Dissolve Me and its droning organs, Fitzpleasure with its unbridled bass: these songs pull at you and unseat the seated in spontaneous compulsion. It is such a strange yet compelling maelstrom of music, with warped voices rising in harmony along side clean, angelic key strikes and sinful, damning bass. It’s as though one of the altar boys spiked the offertory and the choir’s off their tits, but the congregation still gets it because we drank the same stuff.

After the opening sermon, what better than a soul-soothing lullaby and this comes in the form of Matilda, a beautifully precise and otherworldly piece of music. One would be mistaken for thinking that the music is indeed coming from somewhere else, somewhere more complex – it all seems so effortless.  Guitars are lightly brushed by Gwil Sainsbury, almost as an afterthought. Joe Newman’s face is a mask, lips barely moving as the lyrics tumble from them. Even Thom Green’s drums seem reluctant to offer up any resistance, the conductors hands merely having to float above them in order to coax the most sublime beats from within.

Gus Unger-Hamilton chimes the opening chords to Breezeblocks and the crowd heaves toward the stage in approval. This to me has the feel of old hip hop and true to form the audience responds, drowning out Newman’s vocals. Those still stuck in their chairs are magnetised forward, those in the boxes jump to their feet, swaying like sprung jacks. Excitement builds and everyone’s in their own world. There is no dancing as one, no unison to the movement; each person’s body interprets the sound in a different way, like a pentecostal church service, but with rhythm.

Taro is the final tune, sweet melodies and floaty keyboards give way to a lurching, driving beast of a goodbye. This song encapsulates the band for me and seems capable of deep-brain hypnosis, lulling you to sleep before turning you into a puppet and pulling you into a sluggish dance, your body convulsing in waves like an exorcism. The band exit the stage to ecstatic applause and more than one pair of hands raised in the shape of a triangle. We go in peace, into the drizzling wet night, smiles on our faces and the beats still ringing in our ears.

Review and photos by Jamie Tanner


Lucy Ivan

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