Tiffany Frandsen | News Editor | @tiffany_mf
Monday night was the second alt-J concert at the Complex in Salt Lake, and they have developed a cult following. Fans threw up the band’s sign (a triangle with your pointer fingers and thumbs). It’s a tribute to the band’s name; press alt + J on a Mac keyboard and it creates this triangle = , or delta. Fun fact – delta is the fourth Greek letter and is used in science and mathematics to symbolize change, which the band members know, as they are self-declared nerds.
It’s a delightful parallel to their music – clever and ever-changing, as it’s easily as melancholy as it is groovy. It’s difficult to describe their sound in a few words because it’s so transformative, even just from the beginning to the end of one song. The seemingly only uniting quality is the harmonies between guitarist/lead singer Joe Newman and keyboardist/backup singer Gus Unger-Hamilton. Newman’s voice, even when singing emotional and sometimes (often) puzzling lyrics, is cool and almost disinterested. Underneath that, the composite instrumental layer is complex and engaging.
Gwil Sainsbury, the blonde bassist, left the band earlier this year (amicably), so Cameron Knight has joined Newman, Unger-Hamilton and drummer Thom Green on the road. The tour kicked off in New York with never-before-heard tracks off their at-the-time unreleased album in early September with NPR. The album, This is For You, officially dropped September 22.
“Hunger of the Pine” opened the set, appropriately, as it was also the first single released from their new album. The red lights pulsated with the beat and highlighted the four men’s silhouettes.
Even though they are known for a deadpan, impassionate delivery, the lighting is electric, and the energy in the sold-out warehouse was permeable. People grooved. After playing “Fitzpleasure,” they transitioned to “Something Good,” and the lighting turned blue to reflect the mood.
One of the new tracks, “Bloodflood Part II,” is a follow up of “Bloodflood” from the first album. It revolves around a similar phrase – “C-O-double M-O-N,” but sounds completely different. “Bloodflood” is more ethereal and anticipatory, “Bloodflood Part II” sounds more forlorn and beautifully weary. Both were played, in succession, during their Salt Lake concert.
During “Left Hand Free,” Green played a more complex beat than the album version – not surprising, as he has said that the original beat they recorded for that song was the most cliché one he could think of.
The setlist pulled equally from their recent release and their 2012 debut release, An Awesome Wave. They played a short set (about an hour and twenty minutes) and started the encore with the secret track from the new album, “Lovely Day,” which – surprise! – is a Bill Withers cover. Their rendition is so steeped in Alt-J fluidity, mellowness and almost slow-motion jam that it sounds like an original. Only the vocals are the same – it turns out that song’s verses can easily sound melancholy.
Especially at the beginning, there was a little flatness from Newman. It sounds like it could have been that he couldn’t hear well. Fans were no less enthused.
No mash-up of Dr. Dre’s “Still Dre” and Kylie Minogue’s “Slow,” this time (I know, disappointing). This cover, dubbed “Slow D.R.E.,” is Dre’s base line and Minogue’s lyrics and hasn’t been officially recorded other than the first time they performed it – on Australian radio station Triple J in 2012. They also left their cover of Disclosure’s “Latch” off the setlist – a not-well-received performance that aired on BBC 1 about a month ago.
Tiffany is the Deputy Managing Editor for Spring 2015. Follow her on twitter @tiffany_mf