Alt-J lights up the Beacon Theatre

By E.R. Pulgar

Via NPR

To have the notoriously minimalistic alt-J play the ornate Beacon Theatre was a delightful contradiction in and of itself, on Nov. 16.

The only visible gimmicks were the constantly changing lights. Take away this neon visual marvel and you’re left with a bunch of guys in all-black. The band members themselves were unconcerned with appearances, with drummer Thom Green rocking a Nike sweatshirt and the rest of the band donning similarly simple attire. These bare-bones English musicians don’t pretend to be anything other than what they are: a band that makes hypnotizing exuberant indie rock music

Lead vocalist Joe Newman’s voice, a strangely melodic warble, echoed throughout the Beacon as they opened with “Hunger of the Pine,” the first single from their new album “This is All Yours.” Despite the Beacon being a sit-down theatrical space more apt for a play than a rock concert, everyone in the floor was standing in the aisles. During “Fitzpleasure,” most of the audience members near the center were dancing in the aisles. A pit was impossible in a space like this, but the fans came pretty damn close.

The light changes proved to be an effective, if simple, gimmick. It allowed the band to fully showcase their music through a dramatic visual accompaniment. During “Tesselate,” in particular, the band spent most of the performance enveloped in a green light. At poignant parts of the song, the drum would pound and a flash of white light would burst forth and be gone as quick as it came. This undoubtedly boosted the energy of the crowd; the intimate Beacon Theatre was transformed into an arena worthy of the big sound it was showcasing.

Alt-J has always thrived on contradictions, whether through the vocal acrobatics they display in their now-signature harmonies or in the actual lyrical content of their songs. All of these elements combined give them a mystique and several layers to them not seen in the typical rock band nowadays. “Every Other Freckle,” besides driving the crowd insane, was also a strange moment of intimacy. The piece is, in its essence, a love song about wanting even the most insignificantly small parts of someone. Alt-J’s fervent fan base is the same way: they are as minimalistic and as detail oriented as the band themselves, something seen in the Beacon’s turn out. The fans that were not dancing were subdued, pensive, and observant. Calmly bopping their heads, this could be misconstrued as boredom were it not for the intensity of their gazes.

The sign of true musicians lies in how well they can enrapture an audience, and the crowd at the Beacon wanted every part of alt-J: the light spectacle, the complex and layered music, the blinding intelligence of a band that knows exactly what it is and does not lie about it. Truly, the brilliance of the band lies in their honesty and inability to hide behind anything, even if the lights were sometimes blinding.

Truly good music shines through, and alt-J no doubt set the Beacon alight.

E.R. Pulgar is a staff writer. Email him at music@nyunews.com 

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