LIVE REVIEW: Alt-J at Brixton Academy, London

alt-J
Credit George Muncey

Changing your name for legal reasons can be a nightmare for bands, but it can lead to brainstorming innovative ideas that would not have otherwise emerged. Whilst not the first artist to do so, Alt-J, initially called The Films, transformed themselves into the triangle symbol, which is stylised as Alt-J. This change led to the now three-piece winning the 2012 Mercury Music Prize, three subsequent top 10 albums and a four-night marathon at Brixton Academy in 2022. As well as showcasing new material from their latest LP The Dream, innovation in visual arts would dominate these Brixton gigs.

After the venue suddenly went dark, a cage divided into three with LED visuals of candles emerged with three red/orange-tinted human figured silhouettes. If it weren’t for the fact these three unidentifiable figures didn’t start playing “Bane” from their latest album, it would have been impossible to say that there was anyone actually on the stage. Alt-J could have easily been mistaken for holograms or NFTs. The visuals of the all-encompassing cage continued to change with strobing flashing lights as the Leeds trio then played “Every Other Freckle”.

It was only possible to see the band when the accompanying visuals became less opaque when “The Actor” was subsequently performed. There was a sense of unspoken relief amongst the Academy that these modern legends were present in the flesh instead of avatars in spirit.

Cheers and jubilations escalated as Alt-J played the lead track “In Cold Blood” from their previous album, Relaxer. The crowd collectively dug, singing “zero one one zero zero zero one”. The escalation of joy continued to jump with “Deadcrush”; however, the potency of dozens of mini-kaleidoscope swirling with strobing line charts was visually overwhelming and almost overshadowed the beauty of the rendition of this song. Whilst Brixton knew Alt-J were present, enthusiastic and performing live, the wall of separation from the audience by being in a cage was felt when visuals of a school of fish were swimming inside with the band. There was an angry and hungry red shark close behind. It appeared as if the three band members were also separated from each other with parting walls for those standing.

For an EDM led indie rock band with Spaghetti Western sounding guitars, one of the most delightful and unusual joys was the acapella harmonies by Joe Newman and Gus Unger-Hamilton across songs, including “❦ (Ripe & Ruin)”. There was a traditional folk and choral beauty to them, which bands including Fleet Foxes have also projected well. Excitement almost reached a crescendo as Alt-J played “Matilda”. As well as being a live favourite, the veil from the wall of separation between the band and the crowd was lifted to reveal the band members standing on separate platforms, which each had attached step ladders to them.

Unfortunately, the veil of separation descended again when Alt-J then proceeded to play “Chicago”. “Chicago” was accompanied by an opaque static screen, and the band members could only be recognised as shapes with bright blue outlines. It was a treat for gig-goers who view the duration of live shows through the lens of their smartphones. However, for others, they just wanted to see the band members without distortion live.

The wall was temporarily lifted again in dedication to their impressive support act Wilderado. Alt-J also played “Ms”, exactly nine years to the day they last performed it at Brixton. “The Gospel of John Hurt” went down exceptionally well, as did “Fitzpleasure” just before the encore. The band shortly returned. Whilst, for the most part, the veil was lifted, the band members still remained on their separate podiums. Gus gave a no holds barred speech against Putin whilst showing solidarity with Ukraine. The band then played “Left Hand Free”, which was followed by a new melodic and catchy track “, Hard Drive Gold”. Alt-J played out with “Breezeblocks”.

Following “Breezeblocks”, Alt-J captivated by the emotive power evoked when walls are broken down. They descended from their platforms to the centre of the stage, where they hugged each other and waved the audience goodbye. While visuals and holograms are enticing and captivating, Alt-J displayed some mesmerising images that paid homage to fine arts and innovative technology. At Briton Academy, they were often surplus and restrictive to the live experience.

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