By Erin Coulehan, Contributor, DC Music Live
English indie Rockers Alt-J whirled through 930 Club on Monday, March 4 and delivered a calculated collection of folk-inflected dub-pop to a sold-out crowd with unexpectedly complex songs off the band’s 2012 debut LP, An Awesome Wave.
Ordinarily, a combination of hip hop drums, acoustic folk and near monastic chanting might lend itself to an unpredictable mess of sound, but the cacophony prompted the crowd to draw in closely to dance, causing a wave of heat to circulate throughout the lower level of the club.
Alt-J –named after the Greek letter delta which denotes change, the uncertainty principle and the addition of heat in a reaction in science and mathematics – opened the set with a dreamy jazz intro played on an uncharacteristically bare stage for the venue.
The disparate components of dubstep rhythms, acoustic folk and resounding arpeggios coalesced during songs like “Fitzpleasure” with enigmatic cohesion that’s difficult to describe, but proved that the members of Alt-J have their fingers on the pulse of something even if we can’t quite put our fingers on it. But that something, whatever it may be, sent the crowd swaying with serpentine motion and hungry eyes for the duration of the show.
Singer Joe Newman squeezed his eyes shut as he coughed “Please don’t go / Please don’t go / I love you so / I love you so” before Thom Green’s hip hop drums took over during quirky ballad “Breezeblocks” set against a gently twinkling backdrop displaying an intricate vein-like network of colors.
Unity between audience, band and ambiance was achieved as Alt-J entranced the crowd with pulsating fluidity accomplished through oscillating layers of sound: swirly guitar work by Newman accompanied Gus Unger-Hamilton’s a capella harmonies and created a slow-moving prism while a subtle display of kaleidoscopic lights were projected onto the barren stage floor.
The brevity of the show (Alt-J played for fifty minutes) was refreshing and necessarily minimalistic; anything longer than an hour may have been difficult to digest given the complexity of the music which had moments of angularity juxtaposed with poetic lyrics.
During the encore, the band played “Taro” which features a gorgeous Indian-influenced harmony, likening the lads from Leeds to snake charmers as the audience moved in unison. For the multitude of instruments (mounted tambourine, cowbell, etc.), influences and colors, the performance was never overwhelming. The environment was curiously meditative – transcendent even – as the crowd absorbed the lush rhythms and chanted along with the band as they swayed, gently grazing shoulders lost in the mystery of the sound.