On the Scene: Alt-J at Webster Hall, NYC

posted by Maressa Levy on March 28, 2013

Photo: Alt-J at Webster Hall by Maressa Levy

New York City -- Fans exploded into cheers as Alt-J walked onto the stage at New York City's Webster Hall last Friday. The four-piece British indie-rock outfit have a authentic quality about them, with lead vocalist Joe Newman frequently singing with his eyes closed, gently swaying in time to the music. The stage was bare save for instruments and the simple cover art image from their debut album, An Awesome Wave, hung against the back wall. Although the 1,500 capacity room was sold out, the show felt as intimate as a dive bar performance. After a subtle nod from Newman, keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton played the first few chords of "Intro" before settling down into a cappella track "Interlude 1," emphasizing the seamless harmony Newman and Unger-Hamilton's voices create.

Alt-J picked up the tempo and the energy as they played through "Something Good" and "Dissolve Me" before launching into the opening "tra la las" that signaled the beginning of "Fitzpleasure," which concluded with guitarist/bassist Gwil Sainsbury's castanet breakdown. As Newman softly sang the first few lines of "Matilda," pink and purple lights flooded the stage, eliciting a roar from the otherwise unusually quiet crowd.

The glockenspiel-fueled "Ms" quickly softened into another display of Unger-Hamilton and Newman's impossibly tight harmonies, the two voices melded into one as they crooned, "The dark seeks dark, darker, darker… the nights of all my youth pressed into one glass of water."

Seeing Alt-J live was more like experiencing Alt-J live - their inclusion of castanets, bells, and a glockenspiel added an unique edge to their already unusual sound, and their almost eerily calm demeanor as they left the stage following their performance of "Breezeblocks" (which details the murder of a girl held under water by "breeze blocks," or cinderblocks) left the crowd screaming for more. Alt-J obliged, playing a short encore consisting of "Hand-Made" and "Taro."

You can catch Alt-J live this summer at Governors Ball, Coachella, Sasquatch!, Latitude, and Osheaga.

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