It would be something of an understatement to say that Leeds quartet Alt-J are on a bit of a high right now. They won the Mercury Prize last year, were nominated for two BRIT awards and just picked up a prestigious Ivor Novello award for their sensational debut album An Awesome Wave. Their Manchester show comes as part of a huge UK tour and, never having experienced their live show, I was keen to see how the record came across. I arrived at Academy 1 and met a friend of mine who swiftly dragged me right to the front of the crowd. I think that if I hadn’t been amongst their biggest fans, the sloppiness that marked several songs during their set might have been more apparent.
As it was, the crowd just didn’t care. They were there to show their love for the group and, to their credit, all the members of the band looked genuinely humbled by the response, particularly during ‘Matilda’ and ‘Dissolve Me’, during which singer Joe Newman was practically inaudible over the volume of the crowd singing back at him. One of the most remarkable aspects of the performance was how they managed to retain the subtleties of the record in a live setting, but that may well have been a case of excellent sound engineering and clever arrangement more than anything else. Undoubtedly, if Alt-J were a smaller band with a less rabid following, some aspects of the show would have been met with anger. ‘Ms.’ was almost completely out of time and, committing one of the cardinal sins of live music, they had to restart their biggest song ‘Breezeblocks’ several bars in. Even with two covers and every song in their back-catalogue played, the gig felt brief but the crowd’s reaction and the atmosphere show that the public are clearly ready for them. This gig begs the question, however, are Alt-J ready for it themselves?