A little under 24 hours after winning the Mercury Music Prize, Alt-J arrived into the rigid and angular O2 Academy in Oxford as they got back to the business of touring their debut LP, An Awesome Wave. As a reluctant regular of this venue, experience shows that it takes something special to meld this performance space into something out of the ordinary. Alt-J, with their love of triangles and unexpected sing-alongs were able to poke some holes through the fabric of what might have been expected.
An Awesome Wave is something of a solitary listen, with delicate intricacies seeping out with every spin. This is something that one might expect as the record was able to creatively stew for so long, with every detail being meticulously combed over by the four-piece. However, unleashed into a live setting, and with a joyous appreciation of the band’s achievements, it becomes an entirely different beast.
The band took to the stage beaming and not looking too worse for wear after the previous evening’s forays. With only an album worth of tracks plus a cover (a mash up of Dr Dre and Kylie Minogue), the set is svelte yet fulfilling. Every obtuse lyric that can be deciphered turns into something that the crowd can sing back to the band. The more amusing moments come with the ooh’s and lalala’s, particularly on ‘Breezeblocks’ and ‘Ms’. The minimalism of the role that the guitar plays in the group’s sound is also exemplified. So often it is the first and foremost thought in this genre of music, but here it acts as a finesse instrument to add delicate brushstrokes to the work of the rhythm section and keys.
In catching the fantastic Japandroids play live in Birmingham on Tuesday night, lead singer Brian King was turning 30 at the stroke of midnight as well as it being the final date of their huge European Tour. With a slightly damp midweek crowd, King exclaimed: “I want this to be a fucking moment.” Sadly it never really came to be. From the offset of the Alt-J show, it felt like something special. However, both the audience and the band could sense a shift in what will be expected from both of them moving forwards. Their sound is something they have cooked up over such a period of time, but it no longer belongs to them. It belongs to the audience, to do with as they wish. On this night, it was a euphoric connection between audience and band. The next question is, where do they go now? To draw on recent Mercury winners, do they produce something similar to their previous efforts (The XX), or do they try to innovate again and wander down a different path (Portishead)?
We’ve seen Elbow go on from winning the Mercury Prize to create big singalong anthems, and now with a huge following and big venues to play, they can do that. However, stadium-indie would not be something that could easily be imagined for Alt-J. The beautiful coyness of their record plays well in venues like this, even if the nature of the record gets stretched into something different. Of course, this is what should happen with a live show, it should be offering an added dimension. The band have said they have a few new songs in the bank, but on this post-Mercury (awesome) wave, and £20,000 in the bank, how will this change things?