After an all-too-brief stint here over the New Year’s festival period, England’s uniquely ‘alt’ indie rockers, alt-J, kicked off their biggest Australian tour yet last night in Brisbane.
In an evening that seemed to celebrate delicate and distinct male vocals, it seemed fitting that the soulful-sounding Mansionair would be given the honour of warming up the stadium-sized crowd clustered on the Riverstage’s grassy slopes.
The Sydney three-piece have been riding a wave of hype set off by their debut single, Hold Me Down — a meandering and minimalistic layered masterpiece, which has currently amassed close to 10 million plays on YouTube. But the early-twenty-something lads no doubt showed their worth in a poignant performance of this moody, vocally-driven hit to close out their set.
In a motion of eagerness and apparent respect, most punters stood up to greet the second act to the stage. Icelandic singer-songwriters aren’t too common a thing, yet Ásgeir’s music is a type which connects right to the heart of the human condition. Despite his often buoyant and upbeat melodies, in songs such as King and Cross, there is an underlying melancholy which resonates within his voice.
At the same time, Ásgeir’s sound seems to perfectly articulate the austere yet grandiose nature of his home country’s landscape. The 22-year-old communicated a timeless aura well beyond his years, as his flawless falsetto cut clearly through the cool autumn night and rounded out a hauntingly beautiful set, culminating in crowd favourite, Going Home.
There was a slightly eerie buzz in the air as the night’s headliners emerged from the smoke now flooding the stage. Four towering figures remained silhouetted against a backlight of cobalt-blue light, as an electronic pulse emanated out over the darkened stadium. The crowd roared as they instantly recognised the intro of alt-J’s recent hit, Hunger of the Pine. The gentle, hushed vocals of lead guitarist/vocalist, Joe Newman, created the perfect layer of anticipation for the eager punters below.
Keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton seemed to have been the band’s appointed on-stage spokesperson, briefly greeting the thousands before him with a charming English accent. He and Newman then launched straight into one of their well-known hymn-like harmonies, before the sinister bass grooves of Fitzpleasure dropped and stirred the crowd into a swarming rhythm.
alt-J kept the fervour up early on, following up with back-to-back performances of Something Good and Left Hand Free. From here the band dipped in between their two albums throughout the set, with the crowd showing particular preference for the sensually-suggestive vibes of Every Other Freckle and Tessellate. The glowing gold stage lights reflected the stars embedded in the open sky above and delivered the perfect footage to the night’s electronic-tinged folk rock soundtrack.
Although the show didn’t exactly play like a highlight reel, with a deliberate drop in zest during the middle of the set — including an under-appreciated cover of Bill Withers’ Lovely Day — alt-J were able to raise the metaphorical curtain for one last hit. The quirkily-titled Breezeblocks roused a final sing-along and crystallised the band’s eccentricity and musical genius as a welcome part of the Australian music tour scene.
Gallery: alt-J, Ásgeir – Brisbane, Riverstage 08/05/15 / Photos by Rebecca Reid