It was but six months ago the illustrious album ‘An Awesome Wave’ was released by UK indie rockers Alt-J. Since then, they have shot up to the top of household names in up-and-coming music, selling out shows and dominating yearly top 50 charts everywhere.
So it’s a pleasant surprise when the random show a friend recommended back in October quickly became the most highly anticipated concert of the season.
The line is still down the block a half hour after doors open. Jovial gangs of drunken Santas rove the streets of downtown Portland on an otherwise miserable Saturday night.
It’s already shoulder to shoulder when Wildcat! Wildcat! quietly takes stage. A humble-looking bunch from L.A., their music is well crafted and well informed in contemporary pop aesthetics. The bumping bass sounds great in the Star Theaters deep corridor-like venue. Each song is synergistic, blending falsetto harmonies with twinkling synth beats and fuzzed-out bass guitar. The effect is reminiscent of Passion Pit, but with a distinct sensuality to the music which focuses less on narrative and appeals more to the emotions of the listener.
As an opener, Wildcat! Wildcat! is highly successful in juicing up the crowd with awesome rock. Alt-J adds the suspense by doing a thorough 30 minute sound check. By the time they start, the room has erupted in full applause and dancing bodies awkwardly rock and groove to Intro, indulging eagerly in the heavy electronic drop in the middle of the song. They don’t play their debut album from start to finish, but shuffle it and intersperse it with a Tears for Fears cover and a mash up of Slow and Still D.R.E., which compliments the original material and paces the show interestingly.
Alt-J live is a raw and soulful experience. The dynamic between lead guitarist Joe Newman and Gus Unger-Hamilton is prominent as they harmonize their voices and instruments at the front of the stage, building up the whimsical layers and gentle progressions which make up the character of these beloved pieces. A short set was followed by a short encore, where the final song they played was ‘Hand-made,’ the beautiful closer off the album.
If you’re reading in sorrow because you weren’t able to snag a ticket to Saturday’s show, dry your teary eyes, for Alt-J will be back at it again at Portland’s Wonder Ballroom on April 8th of this year. Will you be going?
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