Alt-J have probably chosen the most nerdy name in recent history. If typed on keyboard, it displays a delta symbol - a triangle that is oh-so-easily formed with fingers and aimed at the band in audience acts of admiration. They must have planned that one. The Leeds quartet dress to reflect this image, appearing on stage dressed like they once excelled in Physics. Having supported the likes of Wild Beasts and Ghostpoet, the band are now gigging alone in preparation to release their debut album in late May.
The Africa Centre - a small venue to begin with - and as the show starts, the room temperature is still comfortable. That’s until Alt-J launch into ‘Breezeblocks’ with palpitating drums that seem to wake up Covent Garden, as bodies begin to flood the bedsit-sized venue. The conflicting love-song finishes with a crackling guitar, and a wide smile from front-man Joe Newman. When talking to the crowd, he displays the excitement of a young boy at Christmas, but as a front-man, he remains effortlessly nonchalant, belting out vocals with alluring depth. It‘s the band‘s first time playing 'Something Good' live - but the track is a rhythmic delight, with a healthy sprinkle of sleigh bells.
An interlude of cultish a-cappella chanting leaves most slightly confused, as many of the audience seem to know the words and are bouncing them back. It’s soon noted that people are holding up music sheets and are planted around the room to a flash-mob effect. The result is hymn-like, a holy experience to play with Alt-J’s gospel ambience. In fact, Alt-J’s whole presence seems religious in a way, from their haunting sounds to their illuminati-reminiscent delta logo that stains the hand of every punter admitted.
The thudding entrance of ‘Tessellate’ gives cause for concern that drummer Thom Green might splinter his drums. He provides the heartbeat to a beautifully meandering gritty vocal from Newman that flows over mesmerizing hooks. The bouncy ‘Matilda’ goes down a glittering treat, while the melodic ‘Ms’ was a highlight-providing more musical layers than an onion. For such a young band, Alt-J are incredibly polished and confident in their sound. They thrive in a live environment, with liquid harmonies and tight instrumentals.
The lads are joined on stage by a cellist for ‘Taro’, a gorgeous orchestrated epic that suitably blows the audience away. Newman declares it to be the last song of the night, and as they walk off-stage, they could have been forgiven for not playing ‘Fitzpleasure’.
But, of course they did. An encore sees the crowd-pleaser belted out in all its gritty glory. A thundering bass-heavy synth drops between hypnotic harmonies creating a rollercoaster of sound you want to ride on again and again. It’s a fitting close to a promising, no frills set.
We’ll be hearing a lot more of Alt-J when their debut album is released, and hopefully seeing them play in venues larger than your kitchen.