tue 16/08/2022

alt-J, Barrowland, Glasgow review - unlikely anthems from the shadows | reviews, news & interviews

alt-J, Barrowland, Glasgow review - unlikely anthems from the shadows

alt-J, Barrowland, Glasgow review - unlikely anthems from the shadows

The Leeds band kept their distance during a variable set

alt-J showing their faces

Prior to alt-j’s encore getting underway their video wall switched to the Ukrainian flag. “Fuck Putin!” bellowed keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton, to hearty roars of approval, in what was both a brief reminder of the outside world beyond the increasingly humid Barrowland and also a look at the band themselves and their own emotions, which otherwise remained distant during this show.

That distance was quite literal, particularly early on. The trio were on a raised platform on the stage, meaning they truly towered over the audience, while a large portion of the gig was spent with them in shadow, flickering multi-coloured lights and the video wall only providing scarce glimpses of the bespectacled Unger-Hamilton, hat wearing drummer Thom Sonny Green and the centrally positioned Joe Newman.

Newman seemed absorbed by the darkness the most of the three, meaning the group’s vocals sometimes appeared to be emerging from blackness, before a dash of light illuminated the singer, sporting the sort of beard that will get him confused with Robert Redford nodding in that ubiquitous meme that does the rounds.

Certainly, the visual format was impressive, as was the various videos that flashed up behind, from a wall of candles during slow burning opener “Bane” to a shark floating around throughout old favourite “Tessellate.” The group had come to this tour fresh from a run of arena dates in North America, and even in a smaller sweatbox like the Glasgow venue there was considerable heft to the production.

That is not always a good thing, and during the first half in particular the group felt so remote that it detracted from the experience of actually being at a gig even when rolling out the hammering drums of “In Cold Blood”, greeted with full throated approval, or the etherial strumming of “Matilda”.

It was a performance of clever and creative songs to be admired, but lacking an added element that you would hope would be there in a live show, explaining why the songs seemed to provoke mesmerised dancing and eager chatter with friends in equal measure from the crowd. Material from their most recent album, The Dream, struggled the most, with the twang of “The Actor” and the flexible, poppy “U&ME” fading away as they progressed, despite the best efforts of Green, a totemic backbone to the band all set. Only “Chicago” and it’s filthy, clap-a-long groove really resonated, and marked an upturn in the gig.

Thankfully, alt-j remain a band who possess a number of unlikely, varied anthems, and a strength in depth that serves them well. The set progressed with an increasing focus on their now decade old debut record “An Awesome Wave”, a decision that quietened the chatter and ramped up the dancing, to the extent that the grooves themselves felt heavier. There was pleasure too, in other past highlights, from the eerie, near hymnal “3WW” to a version of “The Gospel of John Hurt” that oozed menace, stirring emotions beyond simply clinical appreciation.

However it was those early days that had the most verve of all, with the freewheeling, funky harmonies of “Dissolve Me” and the noisy, clubby “Fitzpleasure” a terrific one-two punch, prior to a speedy encore that included the swagger of “Left Hand Free” and “Breezeblocks”, still a laconic anthem. It let an uneven gig end on a high, with the band stepping forward to acknowledge the crowd, and move into the light at last.

The group felt so remote that it detracted from the experience of actually being at a gig

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters