Show Review: Alt-J at Express Live

Photo: Alt-J.

Photo: Alt-J.

The raw emotion that overcomes at and attracts so many people to live shows is a shared trait of talented acts. But, the way it’s presented varies. Whenever alt-J crosses over the pond to the States, it seems like a necessity for concert junkies to grab a spot at the drop due to its elaborate, distinguished display.

With sold-out shows all across its "Relaxer" tour, alt-J has both grown and transformed as a band over its decade together. Wednesday night’s show at Express Live lived up to the hype that, with a collection of soothing and intense songs at its disposal, moods can swiftly shift, sometimes between songs.

And that’s alt-J’s catch.

And you wouldn’t think a band with such a stoic stage presence would be able to pull this off. Keyboardist and vocalist Gus Unger-Hamilton, lead vocalist and guitarist Joe Newman and drummer Thom Sonny Green were positioned in a statue-esque manner between alternating neon-colored light poles, moving just enough that at times they seemed superglued to the stage floor.

Despite dismissed qualities like an active stage presence that usually draws so many fans to Columbus concerts, alt-J was still able to pull off a packed roller coaster of a show.

The CD 102.5-sponsored event kicked off at 8:00pm with the incredibly energetic female vocalist Bishop Briggs, backed by a band that packed a punch with its venue-rattling bass. While hits like “Wild Horses” and her closer, “River,” resonated well with the audience, the handful of songs she performed shook the crowd with gusto, running on the stage from side to side without losing any power behind her voice.

Briggs signed off with the audience at Express Live with praises of “relentless, passionate and dope” music crowds in Columbus after a 45-minute set. Despite her energy, which seemed to wear off on Wednesday night’s attendees, alt-J was a half an hour away from totally changing the night’s aesthetic.

When the lights dimmed again 9:15pm, many of those in the sold-out venue weren’t able to peg how the English indie rockers would so seamlessly shift moods throughout the same set. Opening the night with Relaxer’s lead track, “3WW,” the performance captured a soft, slow emotional burn that eventually exploded with Newman and Unger-Hamilton’s shouting of “these three worn words.”

While Relaxer cuts like “Deadcrush” and “In Cold Blood” pushed the pulse of the crowd, alt-J evenly dispersed tracks from its first two albums. Sharing songs from multiple albums can be a difficult transition for some musicians, but the lads from alt-J pulled it off with seamless grace. Although the lyrics stayed poetic and cryptic throughout, the band was able to soothe the crowd with songs that both amped up and calmed down concert-goers at Express.

Trapped within cells of stimulating visuals, light poles that acted as barriers between the bandmates, the group really took things down a notch after “In Cold Blood” with older tracks like “Matilda” and “Bloodflood” that encapsulated and paralyzed a crowd that was jumping up and down minutes before. No one seemed to have a problem with these changes

What also makes alt-j such an appealing live act is its reciprocity to reproduce recorded tracks to live versions. The difference, if any, between the two is that being present provides an ethereal connection that can cause the hairs on your arm to crawl upward or lift your feet completely off the ground.


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The second part was especially true of the group’s closers. Songs like “Fitzpleasure,” “Left Hand Free” and “Breezeblocks” that made alt-J the sold-out entity they have become shifted a night that was becoming a sorrowful yet binding experience between the audience and band into an all-out jam fest. The Columbus crowd seemed to have no issues with the ever-changing wave of emotions alt-J was throwing its way.

Yes, Newman, Unger-Hamilton and Green stood like statues in a park for most of the night. But even with very little physical movement, alt-J was still able to transport Columbus minds from joy to sorrow, pain to pleasure with much ease all within the matter of 75 minutes.

Therein lies its magic.