O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, London, January 18
Alt-J may have already scooped up some coveted silverware in their short lifespan, but they’re winning no prizes for sartorial splendour. Tonight, London is adorned in the elegant white cloak of winter, but inside Shepherds Bush Empire it’s a different story. Lest we forget, last summer they swept through the festival circuit in surf shorts and sandals, looking like they’d sooner be hitting the beach (even though we all know such onstage apparel is only forgivable when it’s worn by confused genius Brian Wilson). It’s a tragedy to report, then, that Alt-J’s winterwear is an even bigger stylistic shambles. Woolly hats and baseball caps, oversized sweatshirts and apologetic facial hair: it’s an aesthete’s manifestation of hell.
The backdrop too is one colossal, heterogeneous faux pas that makes the cover of ‘Be Here Now’ look sophisticated. Radiators nuzzle up to art deco trees, ornate bulbs hang incongruously from the ceiling, and the centrepiece is an assemblage of five random satellite dishes lit up for no reason. It’s like a Hieronymus Bosch painting, only shit.
And yet. And yet… nobody appears to care at all. The fact that Alt-J don’t remotely resemble superstars has no bearing on an audience working itself into a frenzy, energised by the groove of Thom Green’s bold, dextrous drumming. As the band break into ‘Tessellate’, the crowd responds with much whooping and some bloodcurdling screams that one might normally associate with red carpets and Rihanna-level superstars. Everyone loses their shit when ‘Dissolve Me’ is announced, and again Green is the engine room that prevents the band’s psychedelic folk meanderings sounding like music for gnomes. The rapture for ‘Fitzpleasure’ – a song begging to soundtrack a prophylactic advert – almost drowns out its barber-shop beginning.
For a brief moment the fans are lost when they unleash a cover of Kylie’s ‘Slow’ that manages to eviscerate the original’s subtle sexuality by laying butterfingered keyboards and Joe Newman’s uncharacteristically flat delivery on top. But otherwise Alt-J are made to feel wanted all night. And not just by the fashion police.