Alt-J at the Commodore Ballroom

Alt-J Vancouver

Alt-J at the Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, April 7 2013. Kirk Chantraine photo.

Review and photos – Alt-J at the Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, April 7 2013

– review by Joy dela Cruz/ photos by Kirk Chantraine

Much hype has surrounded British indie rock group Alt-J since their debut album An Awesome Wave won the UK’s prestigious Mercury Prize last year. The once obscure Leeds-based quartet quickly became a mainstay on British radio, and the 2012 release peaked at number 13 in the UK album charts. Three 2013 Brit Award nominations, including Best New Artist and Best British Album, followed. It soon became impossible to talk about new music without mentioning their name. So it came as no surprise that they played a sold-out gig at the Commodore Ballroom on Sunday night, their first ever in Vancouver, drawing in new fans and the curious alike.

Attempting to warm up the early crowd was Florida-born art rock group Hundred Waters. The four-piece band, led by multi-instrumentalist/singer Nicole Miglis, have a layered, smart, even unique approach to their blend of electronic elements and pop.  But as their set went on the songs, mostly from their eponymous debut album, became too experimental and improvisational, even for the purest of music nerds in attendance. Miglis’ delicate voice was drowned out  by the songs’ disjointed electronic loops and beats. Bored and disinterested, the audience indicated their apathy with constant chatter for the duration of the set. Hundred Waters left everyone longing for the main act.

Alt-J came out to thunderous applause, and the crowd warmly welcomed them. Seamless from the beginning, the set featured keyboardist (and official band spokesperson) Gus Unger-Hamilton‘s hip-hop inspired electronic beats and singer Joe Newman‘s unique, haunting vocals. Bassist Gwil Sainsbury and drummer Thom Green rounded out the the band’s signature sound.

Inspired by a variety of music genres, Alt-J isn’t easy to describe – they’re best appreciated live. They made mixing drum loops, samples, guitars and even castanets sound cool on songs like “Tessellate”, “Fitzpleasure”, and the crowd-pleasing singles “Matilda” and “Breezeblocks”.

They even made a Kylie Minogue pop song acceptable to a Pitchfork-friendly crowd with an amazing cover of the Australian singer’s “Slow” mashed up with the Dr. Dre/Snoop Dogg classic “Still D.R.E.” Ending with a three-song encore, including album closer “Taro”, Alt-J proved that their music was more than just hype.

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