Written by Robert B. Johnson (@RobertSatellite on Twitter)
ImageWriting a review for an Alt-J show is no easy task. Everything about the band is different. From the way they dress to the music they make, Alt-J is both nondescript and remarkably unique. When Alt-J played Houston’s Bayou Music Center, the band didn’t talk between songs or fill the stage with effects. Instead, Alt-J leaned on their two album catalog of songs and brilliant execution of the tracks to send fans home happy.

The band kicked things off with “Hunger of the Pine.” As with many Alt-J songs, I was curious to see and hear how the band would perform tracks that sounded more like a product of studio time than organic instrumentation. To my surprise, every note of “Hunger of the Pine” appeared to be played live (except a very short Miley Cyrus sample in the chorus). By the end of the song, I was already so impressed with the band’s ability to adapt such a song to suit a live performance.

If there could be one complaint about the show, it would be that it was a hair too short. Alt-J is famous for their intros and interludes. Yet, they opted to leave those tracks out. Instead of taking the stage to “Hunger of the Pine,” Alt-J could have started off a little stronger by playing the introduction track from either album.

Another song, “Taro,” is filled with unique instrumentation that sound really difficult to replicate. For Alt-J, it was just another day at the office. To get an electronic, Egyptian-style sound central to the song, the guitarist simply used a unique picking method and effects to replicate what you hear on the album.

From “Tessellate” to the aforementioned “Taro,” every song was fresh and organic. By all indications, the band made it through the entire set without a backing track of additional sounds. The crutch of many popular acts, backing tracks are commonplace in today’s live music scene. Yet, for a band with one of the industry’s most unique sounds, it was incredible to see them produce every sound without that crutch. As a result, the fans in attendance were treated to something entirely unique to that night. No song would sound the same for any other audience.

ImageThrough a consistent, solid night of music, a few songs stood out of the bunch. “Left Hand Free” was the closest thing to an upbeat rock track. A bit of a departure from the traditional Alt-J sound, “Left Hand Free” had a great rock vibe and got the stationary crowd moving.

Aside from a subtle difference in the piano sound, “Tessellate” was absolutely spot on.

Finally, the band capped the night with “Breezeblocks.” The crowd erupted with the performance of the first note and sang it along with the band throughout. It provided the perfect “go home” moment for the show.

If you’re a fan of Alt-J, you’re probably going to love the band’s live event. However, an Alt-J show might initially seem a bit bland for first-timers. I would implore the first-timers to pay special attention. Stripped of the theatrics and banter, Alt-J is producing something different. It’s incumbent on those in attendance to pick up the subtle things the band members do on stage to produce such a unique sound. Once you see someone on stage playing two instruments and singing at the exact same time, you’ll see what I mean.

Hunger of the Pine
Something Good
Left Hand Free
Dissolve Me
Bloodflood Pt. 2
(Ripe & Ruin)
Every Other Freckle
Warm Foothills
The Gospel of John Hurt

Lovely Day
Leaving Nara

Contact Robert at robert@starsandsatellites.com or @RobertSatellite on Twitter