This Winnipeg band is a model of teamwork. Beyond the synchronicity needed to perform music in a live setting, the amount of grooving to one another’s sections showed a sacred kinship. Lead singer Matt Peters has a ringmaster’s duty, balancing two drummers, keys, two stringsmen and his own instruments while still delivering a usually odd timed vocal line. It’s a good fit for an Alt-J show, providing Sci-Fi noises and hypnotic drumming paired with heavy synthesizer usage and an eccentric singer. It’s as if Broken Social Scene grew up on Parliament, Genesis, and Mike Patton and decided to write without fear. Two drummers is usually an excuse to cause havoc, but the delicate dance on display justified duplicate kits. Each one provided a different heartbeat, creating a context for their band to jam off of.
Layers, man. Layers.
New songs “Bathtubs” and “Birthday” went over well and if the response from the crowd is any indication how their new album will sell, Royal Canoe did themselves a favor by performing so well. Their show was solid front-to-back and did more than an opening band’s task of pumping up the crowd. If they aren’t playing at Coachella or at least on the major festival circuit come this time next year, something is seriously wrong with the music industry.
The headliners had an odd start that got a little more peculiar, as Tyga’s “Rack City” brought them out to the stage. The hip-hop jam was indicative of their taste and style, not of their music, but it did give the crowd a reason to dance before the show began. But when it was their turn to turn it on, singer Joe Newman’s voice cracked on the very first line of the very first song, “Fitzpleasure.” Recovery was near-instantaneous and he didn’t seem to falter for the rest of the night, but those looking for objective perfection were not going to get it.
The crowd dynamic was interesting, with a near sold out crowd hooting and hollering as you would any excellent band, but the gap between diehards and those looking to attach to their meteoric rise was audibly apparent when those hoots never turned to lyrics. Granted, Newman’s voice is hard to understand, but who doesn’t scream at a Radiohead or Pixies show without knowing the words? On the flip side, those attached to the umbilical mysticism set forth were obviously lifted to another artistic plane. I saw people dancing as if the rapture was occurring and they just wanted to hear one more song before meeting their maker. It was powerful in its vibrancy.
Alt-J played their entire album and a few deep cuts, as deep as a new band with one album can provide, including the eerily good “Buffalo” from the Silver Linings Playbook soundtrack. The various interludes elongated the set but failed to really keep the crowds attention, that was until the opening note of whatever the next song was, as that was all it took to reignite the Palladium’s packed house. They re-debuted a brand new track entitled “Warm Foothills,” a slower jam they busted out during their recent Reading Festival appearance, as well as both of these Palladium shows. It sounded more personal than some of the enigmatic tunes on their debut album, but a studio version with some decipherable lyrics will tell that story. Still, it was nice to hear something new from a band who’s main album has been in constant rotation in my life for over a year.
The best aspect of Alt-J is their musicianship, far and away a notch above the rest. They are not afraid of trying difficult sections, unpopular timing, and truly unseen techniques to improve even the smallest passage of a track. Bass harmonics are quite uncommon but used wisely in a few songs. This is a nerd rock band, through and through, that somehow managed to crossover without question to a pop audience. Their intellectual approach to avant-garde ass-kickery is a differentiator in the modern music scene.
Diminutive drummer Thom Green is the not-so-silent killer in the group, seemingly channeling all of the underlying rage the other three even-keeled English gents never show. His wicked pace gave him trouble in spots, but recovery was always swift and with impunity. His ability to keep his teammates grounded is the key to their success.
Playing “Breezeblocks” last is kind of a funny dig, as they obviously don’t want to Gotye themselves out of the 20-something zeitgeist. While the majority of the album was not played in numerical order, their hit single was left for the encore, living up to that age old rock and roll tradition of sending the crowd home wanting more.
This was the second day of their tour, so there were bound to be a couple rough patches, but the chemistry was pretty obvious from the intro. Each song is built like a ship in a bottle, carefully crafted with dynamic curves that make no sense, yet stand as works of art when completed. This is the band’s defining trait: embracing the abstract and making it their own. This show exemplified that notion and this tour will only solidify them as a band that stands alone.
- Something Good
- Ripe and Ruin
- Warm Foothills
- *Guitar Interlude*
- Dissolve Me
- Real Hero