Alt-J at the Empty Bottle | Photos and live review
In the digital world of the present, word travels fast. It could be argued that music travels even faster. British indie rockers Alt-J have made waves across the pond with their aptly titled debut LP, An Awesome Wave, released early in the summer to resounding critical acclaim. The record officially hit American shores earlier this week, but judging by the cramped quarters that greeted the band at the Empty Bottle on Friday night, most in attendance had gotten their hands on the group’s music well in advance.
A roar of adulation erupted from the crowd as the quartet picked up their instruments and struck the tense chords of “Intro.” “It’s just a nod to the canon,” singer Joe Newman intoned, a fitting statement considering the blend of folk, trip-hop and rock that comprise the group’s varying influences. Newman’s somewhat nasal voice was often joined by the falsetto harmonies of keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton, most notably on the a capella lead-in to piano-driven single “Tessellate.” Those in attendance also lent their voices, exuberantly belting out the chorus of “Matilda” and almost drowning out the band in the process.
Displaying musicianship well beyond their years, Alt-J’s renditions were exceedingly tight, stripping away some of the lushness of their recorded work in favor of a more minimalistic approach. Drummer Thom Green’s precise rhythms proved to be the backbone of the band’s live presence, effortless transitioning from the restrained patter of “Something Good” to the driving refrains of “Fitzpleasure.” The energy in the room remained constant, even as the group transitioned to downtempo cuts like “Bloodflood” and “Taro.” Alt-J's performance managed to live up to the hype surrounding it, showcasing a talented young band armed with songs that play to their strengths. And while the evening's intimate surroundings seemed appropriate for the occassion, it's safe to say that the group's next visit to Chicago will see them graduating to a venue a bit larger than the Bottle.