Alt-J, The O2
The O2 Arena, London, January 24 2015
My, how they’ve grown. Once Alt-J thought miniscule, making their elaborate future folk on a laptop in university halls, eschewing drums and bass so as not to annoy their fellow students. Now they’re advert mainstays and their skittering textures, pastoral atmospherics and the sort of madrigal pop harmonies last heard at a Cadfael cast karaoke night have billowed to arena-size. The trio’s biggest show to date is an intriguing modernist spectacle as sparse as it is bombastic; from the seditious opening synth thrums of ‘Hunger Of The Pine’ and ‘Fitzpleasure’ through the sunnier climes of ‘Something Good’ and the hologram Hendrix of ‘Left Hand Free’, it’s a new evolution of the arena show imbued with the sophisticated subtlety of the Millennial generation, who crave something less tired predictable than pyrotechnics and pomp. The O2 is not so much rocked tonight, it’s coded.
It’s an approach that works best on simple and stunning crowd-unifiers like ‘Matilda’, or when they bleed the Shinto chimes of ‘Bloodflood’ – from their 2012 debut ‘An Awesome Wave’ – into its cinematic counterpart from last year’s ‘This Is All Yours’, ‘Bloodflood Pt II’. More meandering thematic pieces drift a little – when ‘Nara’ is hooked directly up to ‘Leaving Nara’ in the encore, for example – but Alt-J remain tight and dynamic enough to keep the set rattling neatly along. They drop in a warped pop rarity called ‘Leon’ written when they were called Films, and a shimmering version of Bill Withers’ ‘Lovely Day’ that sounds like a beach party on the Sea Of Tranquility. The bright, bristling street party vibe of‘Dissolve Me’, an itchy ‘Tessellate’ and ‘The Gospel Of John Hurt’ – with its medieval Depeche Mode synth climax exploding like an alien parasite from its chest – offset the fairy-ring folky bits of ‘Warm Foothills’ and maintain an intoxicating pace. It all wraps up with a mass singalong of ‘Breezeblocks’, arguably the lowest-key arena finale in history, but satisfyingly entrancing nonetheless. Welcome to the age of maximal minimalism, and Alt-J are its monkish mastermind.