alt-J

support Gengahr + Wolf Alice
author MN date 19/02/15 venue Tap 1, Copenhagen, DEN

Excitement had been "brewing" for a long time upon this Thursday evening, when Alt-J finally mark their return to Denmark with a headlining gig in the Carlsberg City venue, Tap 1. I seized the opportunity to review these guys based on the monumental hype surrounding them in the past 2-4 years. Friends and strangers alike have praised the trio to the skies for their amalgamation of indie pop rock and electronica, and it seems like the outfit have struck a chord with not only the traditional indie following, but fans of many styles and genres joyously blast their tunes with pride. So, what is it that makes alt-J so damn popular? They managed even to sell out one of Copenhagen's largest venues six months prior to showtime. Tonight's observations will tell the tale and attempt to see if their efforts deserve the incredulous hype. The Leeds-based band have invited along two supporting acts of which the first to enter the stage is Gengahr, a band based in London who play modern indie rock à la MGMT and Vampire Weekend, anchored by the light and delicate voice of vocalist Felix Bushe.

All photos courtesy of Christian Juul Søes

Gengahr

The Tap1 venue is only half full when Gengahr emerge on the stage, backed by a warm-blue lighting backdrop ever so characeristic of many indie shows (excuse my generalisation). The four piece are quite unknown in these parts so most of the audience partake as curious onlookers whilst the rest of the crowd stand in the unfathomable lines in both the wardrobe and the 4 bars of the venue. Gengahr play minimalist compositions that have occasional welcoming outbursts of garage-like rock where the soft-spoken vocals of Bushe are paired with a gritty guitar tone supplied by John Victor.

"Powders" is probably their most popular track thus far and is also the most warmly received by the audience. "Bathed In Light" is my personal favourite track, where the highly original melody and the rhythm section of bass and drums really penetrate the otherwise lukewarm sound calibration. It is not unknown for the support act to play under more sombre conditions, which unfortunately also means people quickly lose their focus on the stage. Gengahr's music is by no means bad, but they lacked the capacity to shine in this scenario, perhaps an outcome of being relatively new to the big scene.

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Wolf Alice

When it comes to Wolf Alice, my excitement is substantially more animated when the alternative rock quartet enter the stage fronted by the charismatic Ellie Rowsell on vocal duties. This London-based outfit supply a breath of fresh air in the overall soundscape of this evening. Being firmly planted within the alt-rock movement, Wolf Alice have a much more riffy approach to their music that can be described as a very succesful combo of 90's grunge and modern indie pop rock along the lines of The XX and Haim.

The song "Moaning Lisa Smile" is lashed out on the audience to great avail, Ellie has a powerful vocal and the wailing of the chorus supplies the soundtrack to some people eagerly pogo-ing around, creating a miniature moshpit in the front area. This opening act clearly means business and will not be left forgotten upon this evening's end. Another great highlight is the radio-basher "Bros" which has a sort of nostalgic ambience to it; the sound also seems to be more configured and focused during Wolf Alice than the first act. The visual aesthetics of flashing lights also seem to be increasing the excitement within the audience. Wolf Alice are one of those bands that play along with the "less is more" concept of staying minimal but thankfully, they also employ some rough edges in the soundscape that ultimately pays homage to the grunge scene. So I award a solid 7 for Wolf Alice's efforts tonight. Please do return.

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alt-J

So, the hour has finally come for alt-J to grace the stage at Tap1. The clock rings in 21.30 and darkness envelopes the venue, hand fly up in excitement as the trio, now a quartet with a touring sample-player and guitarist, enter the stage to the sounds of the somewhat ambivalently received track "Hunger Of The Pine". It is the newest single off their sophomore record "This Is All Yours". Truthfully, not one of the strongest tracks on the record, in my opinion. Yet, the audience eats it up as the string sounds combine with the synth waves and the crisp synth drums bring about a suspenseful and slow start to the gig. A turn of surprise is then witnessed as the somewhat boring introduction is tagged out with the ultimate crowdpleaser in form of "Fitzpleasure" where the electro-bass-amps rattle the rib cages of all audience members. The light show is mildly put spectacular, where the chandelier like backdrop and diamond shaped light panels are programmed meticulously to follow all rises and drops, sweeps and turns of alt-J's detailed sonic atmosphere.

"Something Good" brings more acoustics and more full-bodied sounds into focus. One of the gorgeous things about alt-J is how they have managed to stay traditional in their instrumentation, yet combine it with the most cutting edge sounds within electronica. It is like Fleet Foxes and Kings Of Convenience meeting French electro heavyweights in Justice at times. "Left Hand Free" is also so damn traditionalist in its melodic approach, sounding more like something out of the 70's, yet not feeling outdated on this stage tonight. One of the more uplifting experiences arrives in the form of "Dissolve Me" that has this tinge of Trinidadian calypso not unlike what we hear in our local boys in The Eclectic Moniker or from fellow countrymen Noah And The Whale. Slow crowdpleasers "Matilda", "Bloodflow" and newcomer "Bloodflow II" are warmly received, but there does seem to form an air of formulaic performance routine upon the stage. People pay for concerts to experience the music in a live setting, but in many ways, a concert is a social event that should bring you closer to the performers than a CD playback would. For this reason, I expect alt-J to make a considerable effort in reaching across the venue to make the night more memorable rather than a more visually aesthetic experience of their tracks. Unfortunately, the band don't seem to be reaching out too much tonight. Which is a damn shame.

"Interlude I (The Ripe The Ruin)" has the crowd singing loudly along as the ultimate big hitter "Tesselate" is performed. The night's highlight come, however, in the form of "Every Other Freckle" and the brilliant "Taro". The initial set is eventually ended by "The Gospel Of St. John" in which alt-J leave the stage, only to return within 3 minutes to perform another 4 tracks, ending the gig with the monumental "Breezeblocks". A lengthy setlist of 17 songs should please most modern day giggers, but unfortunately the absence of stage presence really puts a damper on the excitement. That being said, I expected worse sound from what I've heard in Tap 1. I personally thought the sound was good from where I was standing. I thoroughly enjoyed the Alt-J show, but I am not certain I would go out of my way to experience them again.

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