Photographs and Review by John Bentley

Alt-J

Alt-J have done pretty well for a band with just one album behind them, selling out Birmingham’s O2, not to mention many other recent gigs. This is especially so given their music is quirky, experimental art rock, which you might expect to have a more limited audience. However, they’ve proved an international success.

Hundred Waters

There are two well-selected support bands on the bill tonight. Appropriate in that they are both similarly experimental, making heavy use of keyboards, synths and effects. First up, from America, are Hundred Waters. At the forefront of their sound is Nicole Miglis’s breathy vocals, at times sounding rather like Bjork. She also plays keyboards and some flute. The music is frequently pastoral, but there is also extensive use of beats and, towards the end, two of the synths are dispensed with in favour of the harder sound of electric guitars. Once again at the O2, the audience noise makes it difficult to hear the subtleties of the music. It’s a shame that many people don’t just shut up and listen and give support bands a chance. Hundred Waters would probably sound fantastic in the smaller and more intimate confines of Birmingham’s Glee Club. Listening to their material in the quieter environment of the internet, they do seem to be a very interesting band.

Princess Chelsea

Princess Chelsea is New Zealand electro-pop artist Chelsea Nikkel, together with her band. She’s very elegantly dressed and with false eyelashes the size of which have not been seen since the 1960s. Again, an interesting and enjoyable band and with some great catchy songs. While I’m not familiar with their material, I think the penultimate number was the standout poptastic ‘Cigarette Duet’, featuring a whirly organ sound and a duet (reminiscent of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood) from Chelsea and her guitarist, which I really recommend you listen to –http://princesschelsea.lilchiefrecords.com/album/the-cigarette-duet-european-tour-edition

Alt-J

I’m quite new to Alt-J, but they’re obviously a band you can’t ignore and the world has really taken to them it would appear. They seem to fit into the category of ‘art school’ bands like Django Django and Hot Chip. There’s also a bit of The xx in there. They are certainly one of the most geeky-looking bands around, but that look seems to fit in well with their genre-defying, mathematically constructed, yet thoughtful, brand of music. It’s characteristics include spiky instrumentation, jerky delivery and high-pitched acapella harmonies. Their debut album, ‘An Awesome Wave’, won the Mercury Prize last year and has been generally well-received. However, it does have rather a ‘Marmite’ quality and a minority of critics gave it the thumbs-down. You probably either like it or not.

Alt-J

The set consists mostly of the tracks on the debut album and starts off in the album order, with Gus Unger-Hamilton’s piano-based ‘Intro’. It includes strange vocals, from guitarist Joe Newman, that sound like a combination of dub and hip-hop. Then there follows the even stranger acapella ‘Ripe and Ruin’, after which ‘Tessellate’ sounds like more conventional indie rock territory by comparison. On tracks like ‘Buffalo’, one of the things that makes Alt-J sound different from other bands is the interesting trebly percussion, played by Thom Green. Not taken from the album is a mash-up of Dr Dre and Kylie Minogue entitled ‘Slow Dre’. No one could accuse Alt-J of not being experimental.

Alt-J

‘Matilda’ is one of their more straightforwardly poppy songs and the audience duly join in singing the chorus, “This is from Matilda”. Gus dedicates ‘Ms’ to the two support bands, after which they finish with the popular and catchy ‘Breezeblocks’, with its insistent stabby riff and strangulated vocal from Joe. The three song encore finishes with ‘Taro’, which has subtle Bangra-influenced instrumentation. The audience, made up of all sorts and all ages, again join in, singing “Hey Taro”. They are pretty devoted to the band and seem to know the album inside-out.

Alt-J

Then after an hour’s music (it looks like the band have been through their entire repertoire) they leave the stage. Live the band are accomplished musicians and deliver the complex album with sensitivity and precision, as well as engaging with audience. For a newcomer to Alt-J like me, it’s fascinating working out the styles and influences in the music and the song structures are intriguing. Alt-J’s performance was impressive, but I am not sufficiently convinced by the songs to call myself a real fan.

Alt-J

Alt-J Setlist: Intro; Interlude 1(Ripe & Ruin); Tessellate; Something Good; Buffalo; Dissolve Me; Fitzpleasure; Slow Dre; Matilda; Interlude 2; Bloodflood; Ms; Breezeblocks. Encore: Hand-Made; Real Hero; Taro.

Alt-J

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