*Live Review written by guest writer Oonagh Collins*
alt-J are a pretty hot ticket right now. After their Mercury Prize winning debut album ‘An Awesome Wave’ in 2012, they followed it up with (the only slightly less successful) ‘This is All Yours’ last year. Their introspective, dark, indie electronic pop (with a touch of folk and rock) has proven popular in the charts and with a sold out show in Manchester Central kicking off their UK tour they must be pleased.
The Horrors supported them, with the dubious line of “You’re more polite than the Arctic Monkeys fans”. I have to say, I blame the venue for the lack of atmosphere. Manchester Central, formerly known as GMEX, is just not good for music. Manchester is lacking a good venue for bands too popular for the Apollo or Academy 1 and not quite ready for the M.E.N. Arena.
No doubt the sound engineers did their best here; they did put up a huge black curtain dividing the space in half, as well as more fabric hanging from the ceiling for the sound to bounce off…but the space is cavernous and some of the more subtle harmonies alt-J are known for got a bit lost. On the plus side, there wasn’t a queue of people pushing past me at any point and I never got too warm, which for a sold out gig is pretty…unusual. I think two nights at a smaller venue would have done the band a lot more favours acoustically.
Unfortunately, Joe Newman’s voice seemed to be struggling too with missed notes and increasing hoarseness. He sounded like he needed a hot tea with honey and lemon, which is not the best at the start of a tour. The rest of the band were very tight, with Gus Unger-Hamilton providing solid support with keyboards and backup vocals. The visuals were also pretty strong with lots of bright, mainly primary colour, light patterns suiting the electronica tunes. The band may be shy of the limelight as they were moodily back-lit throughout the night. Plus, Joe Newman had just a little bit of audience participation, asking people to sing along to ‘Mathilda’ “if they wanted.” This went down well and more interaction between the songs probably would have too. Maybe they’re just not that type of band though.
The crowd enthusiastically jumped in on their own with the hand clapping on ‘Every Other Freckle’ and were very appreciative of the band, singing along to the standout songs. There was a good mix from both albums. Starting with ‘Intro’, appropriately enough, via my companion’s favourite song of the night ‘Dissolve Me’ and ending with the crowdpleaser ‘Breezeblocks’. The crowd walked away satisfied.
I’ll be looking forward to their next album and hopefully an album tour in a better venue.