alt-J w/Hundred Waters
When: March 28th, 2013
Grade: 4 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed and photographed by: Neil Miller, Jr.
The best shows are always the ones where every artist performing is top notch. The Metro frequently brings in shows of this variety, and that is precisely why it will always be Chicago’s best venue for real music. Tonight’s alt-J show was no exception to that trend and although we only caught the second half of Hundred Waters’ texture-rich and mesmerizing set, that much in itself was a nice treat for our ears. Surrounding themselves with synths and samplers with a live drummer to fill out their multi-layered sound, Hundred Waters delivered a set worthy of an Arcade Fire-style following… and they definitely have the potential to become a band of that magnitude through their wistful harmonies and spastic dives into whatever genre they feel like owning for each song. But alas, Hundred Waters was the opener, and the best part of the night was yet to come…
After a heartfelt introduction from none other than one of my personal musical heroes, Q87.7’s Walter Flakus (who also used to be a part of Stabbing Westward, a band I still love to this day in spite of their current non-existence), alt-J took to the stage, and the aura of the room filled with anticipation. We all knew we were about to see a show like no other. This band just won the prestigious Mercury Prize, which has gone to past winners such as The xx, PJ Harvey, Franz Ferdinand, Portishead, Suede…you get the picture. It’s no minor accomplishment, and the band’s show speaks volumes as to how much they’ve earned such a prominent honor. If you thought An Awesome Wave was a good album, you haven’t heard anything until you’ve experienced those songs live.
Kicking off the show with the initial trifecta of songs from the album, the set really picked up steam from the opening piano hits of “Tessellate,” which enraptured the audience with a strobe heavy light setup and harmonies that would make the boys in Grizzly Bear blush. Throughout the set, it was apparent that these guys deserve a lot of credit for being able to flesh out such an intricate, yet restrained sound where everything you hear is represented onstage somehow. It would be easy for these guys to use backing tracks or rely heavily on samples, but this was about as live as alt-J’s music could possibly get, and that’s commendable in itself. The best track of the night, hands down, was the bass heavy grind of “Fitzpleasure,” which got the crowd lost in a nirvana-like state of writhing and moments of sing-alongs. This was also the song that really showed off the percussive muscle of the band and got an extra kick from the floor toms drummer Thom Green was banging the life out of.
After an encore of a few of their most unobtrusive tracks, spearheaded by the album closing “Taro” (with the exception of the hidden track at the end, “Hand-Made,” which was also a part of the encore), the band left on a note that no one in attendance will ever forget. This show will undoubtedly go down in Metro’s history as one of their best ever and could very well be a foretelling of the future alt-J can expect stateside. Listening to chatter upon exiting the theater, it was obvious that everyone else was in agreement. One thing’s for sure… we were all lucky to witness this show because the next time alt-J play in Chicago, it’s sure to be somewhere much bigger and less intimate. (Editor's Note: This last statement was actually true as they've just been announced to be performing at Lollapalooza this August!)