This Is All Yours: An Awesome Wave of Alt-J

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Alt-J left to right: Joe Newman, Gwil Sainsbury, Gus Unger-Hamilton, & Thom Green

Image Courtesy of Olivia Harris

When you walk inside Echostage, the unfamiliar non-development of northeast DC melts away, transporting you into a universe (well, warehouse really) of auditory and visual overload, a land created purely to be experienced with 5,000 like-minded (or out of their minds) music fans.

I love what they’ve done with the place, between the truly sizable stage (which allows even those in the back a view) and the futuristic club design of the room lighting up the bars, and the ceiling in particular, Echostage was truly crafted for a transcendental experience.

We arrived just in time to hear Mikky Ekko (of Rihanna’s “Stay” fame) take the stage, with his deeply soulful crooning and steadily stomping soundscapes behind him. His interactions with the crowd between fan favorites “Pull Me Down” and “Smile” can best be described as wonderfully humble, as he expressed a genuine appreciation for our attendance and enjoyment of his auditory creations.

If you missed both previous opportunities to witness Alt-J in the wondrously compact 9:30 Club, I apologize. Echostage did a fantastic job of upsizing the experience that is Alt-J live, but nothing can quite capture the same ethos as hearing their looking soundscapes in such a personal setting.

The entire venue was packed by the time Alt-J was due on stage, and the excitement was palpable among the largely non-sober crowd.

Recall the lighting which I had mentioned earlier? Well when Alt-J began, they arrived, as if having been teleported to us from an alien craft, or, well, Leeds. Silence abound when the house lights dimmed and green lazerrays began to shoot in sync with the ghostly syncopated beats of “Hunger of the Pine”, leading to an eruption of excitement as the shadowy forms of Joe Newman, Gus Unger-Hamilton, Gwil Sainsbury, and Thom Green appeared through the haze.

The hypnotic experience that is listening to Alt-J with closed headphones and eyes simply cannot be replicated in a live setting, which leads the band to aim for something even more impressive in concert: the communal joining (and later melting) of minds of those in attendance. As their set powered forward the crowd moved with them, swaying and singing along euphorically to the incredibly radio-friendly “Left Hand Free”, and the pounding dance tune “Tessellate”.

When Alt-J begins playing, the waves of sound emitted from their instruments wrap around everyone to seemingly exclude the world from this transitory experience, powerfully delivering songs both new and old in a carefully curated playlist which, as one could have assumed, combined “Bloodflood” I & II and navigated the evening through auditory vicissitudes from the slow “❦ (Ripe & Ruin)” to the crazily eclectic “Every Other Freckle”.

They played both An Awesome Wave and This Is All Yours almost in their entirety, leaving out only their interludes, the instrumental “Garden of England” and unfortunately the new and soulful “Pusher”.

I had been particularly excited to hear “The Gospel of John Hurt” live and being that Gospel is about the film Alien, the ethereal and other-worldly lighting and smoke effects worked perfectly to close out their set.

They kicked off the encore with a silky cover of Bill Withers’, “Lovely Day”, before playing “Nara”, one of my other favorites from the new album. They rounded out the night with a 5,000-person chorus supporting “Breezeblocks”, before modestly thanking everyone for coming and then taking the time to appreciate “everyone who’s worked tirelessly to make this tour fantastic”, claiming that there “could not have been a better place to wrap.”

If you’re one of the few who has yet to experience Alt-J, begin with An Awesome Wave and let it wash over you, questioning why you hadn’t done this earlier.

– Jordan Grobe

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