Photograph by Burak Cingi
alt-J’s rise over the last year is not dissimilar to your standard issue rom-com storyline. They’re the musical equivalent of the typecast protagonist, the trigonometry-loving nerd who is forever sidelined for being an odd-ball misfit throughout high school but by the end of the film, they’ve proven everybody entirely wrong, and won the heart of the hottest girl in school – or in this case, the Mercury Prize and a hat-trick of Brit nominations.
Alt-J first garnered attention on the humble stage of The Garage in Highbury, playing second fiddle to Toro y Moi. Rattling through their debut EP ∆, they were very good, but quite understandably, a bit nervous. “I think this is officially the biggest crowd we’ve ever played to..so, urm, thanks!” mumbled an overwhelmed Joe Newman to a low-ceilinged room . A little over a year later, Alt-J are playing their biggest show to date to a sold-out Shepherds Bush. It is their name emblazoned above the door in the big black letters. It is Alt-J’s venue, full of adoring fans that have braved the treacherously snowy conditions to turn up in force tonight.
In front of a petrol-hued backdrop and some gleaming Hollywood spotlights, Alt-J are still incredibly focused on-stage, delivering intricately picked guitar riffs a-plenty, and flawless renditions from ∆n ∆wesome W∆ve. There is a new ease to their stage presence, though. They might not be flinging themselves wildly into the triangle-signing arms of the front row, but the band are all cheeky grins tonight. Gus Unger-Hamilton is enjoying a lot of female attention, and is a little flustered behind the keyboards, much to the rest of the band’s amusement. We even catch Gwil Sainsbury pelvic-thrusting his bass like there’s no tomorrow during ‘Fitzpleasure’.
Halfway through the set Jack Newman tells us the next song will be a cover, and the room waits with baited breath. People nearby are confidently speculating that Alt-J will return the favour and cover Mumford & Sons, so it comes as rather a shock when an opening piano riff of ‘Still Dre’ starts up instead. The band gives us a drawn-out and deltafied mash-up of Dr Dre and Kylie Minogue’s ‘Slow’. Despite the fact that this combination reads like a train-wreck, they somehow manage to pull it off effortlessly, in their own charming way.
‘M∆tilda’ and ‘Dissolve Me’ follow in quick succession, prompting both incredible and questionable displays of dancing in the crowd, and a sing-along that nearly drowns out Newman’s distinctive vocals. Someone up on level 2 gets so overexcited that they send their drink flying with a stray limb, cascading downwards, soaking everyone in its beery trajectory. And then, all too soon, the encore is upon us, and after one last hurrah, the final notes of ‘Taro’ ring out. The band throw towels and drumsticks into the audience, beaming at one another because they know they’ve nailed it. Having a few prizes tucked under your belt sure helps things along, but something tells us Alt-J would’ve put on an equally impressive show without them.