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When British indie rockers alt-J first began playing together nearly ten years ago, band members practiced in the school dorms and had to keep things so quiet, they weren’t even able to use drums. The band has moved up to bigger stages — it just played in front of thousands at Lollapalooza Argentina and Lollapalooza Brazil — and its sound has become more expansive (and louder too). In fact, when playing live, the band doesn’t entirely seek to retain the delicate nature of its studio recordings but rather amplifies things to the extent that the vocals sometimes get lost in the mix.
With superb drummer Thom Green hammering away at his kit (we love the fact that he doesn't use cymbals but rather goes for a percussive sound), the band sounded much more aggressive last night at the State Theatre where it played a sold out show. That approach really worked in its favor. Add in the stellar light show that constantly bathed the band in dark green and purple lights that sometimes looked like something out of The Matrix, and you had one helluva show.
While the 90-minute concert started slow as the band was backlit to the point that you couldn’t even make out the musicians' faces, the show quickly picked up-tempo with “Something Good,” a tune that benefited from a heavy bass riff. The funky “Left Hand Free,” a twangy number that had a bit of a ‘60s psychedelic rock feel to it, got audience members on their feet and twirling. Though “Matilda” sounded too tepid, Green kept the song alive with a steady snare drum beat and the song went out with a bang as the band turned up the distortion so that a dull hum filled the venue at the song’s conclusion.
While singer-guitarist Joe Newman and singer-keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton didn’t always harmonize perfectly — Newman even had to laugh when he botched the beginning of “Taro” and had to start the song over — that’s a minor quibble with an otherwise thrilling show. Replicating the layers of vocals found on the band’s albums is no easy task, and the group deserves credit for not using pre-recorded backing tracks.
The set concluded with the anthem-like “Breezeblocks,” a song that started with muffled vocals and then emerged into a groovy garage rock tune that even featured a bit of xylophone. It ended things on a high note as the off-kilter tune suggests just how unique the band’s sound really is. The refrain “please don’t go/I love you so” undoubtedly characterized the thoughts of many audience members.