Alt-J at Varsity Theater, 4/1/13
With Hundred Waters
Varsity Theater, Minneapolis
April 1, 2013
After Alt-J's convincing Minneapolis debut at a crowded Triple Rock back in September, the hotly-tipped U.K. quartet raised the stakes a bit with their Twin Cities return at a sold-out Varsity Theater on Monday night. And while much of the adoring crowd was transfixed by the Mercury Prize-winning group's 55-minute set -- and will likely follow their leap to First Avenue for two already sold-out shows this September -- the diaphanous, beat-driven songs ultimately proved to be distant and decidedly one-note.
Alt-J's polished, textured tracks easily filled the room but they ultimately failed to resonate, instead coming across as rather hollow and lifeless, due in part to the young band's utter lack of stage presence. The mostly incoherent vocals of lead singer Joe Newman left much of Alt-J's numbers without any recognizable soul or emotional center to attach to, and their unvaried numbers drifted by pleasantly enough throughout the brief set, but failed to take hold in the end.
The band took to the stage victoriously with their arms raised in celebration -- and why wouldn't they, since Minneapolis clearly is enamored with them. And the strong start of the set certainly built on that warm reception, as the moody, electronic strains of "Intro" found the band covered in shadows before Thom Green's beats kicked in, revealing a stage lit-up by elegant Edison bulbs. The show started with the same recognizable trio of songs that kicks-off their award-winning debut album, An Awesome Wave, with "Interlude I (Ripe & Ruin)" blending smoothly into their hit single, "Tessellate," which became a crowd singalong over the top of their churning rhythms and mercurial electronic flourishes.
A smoldering, keyboard-laden take on "Something Good," followed quickly, after a brief word of thanks from keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton (the only member of the quartet who did any talking during the set). But a wayward, slight rendition of "Buffalo," which was recently used in the Oscar nominated Silver Linings Playbook, got the set off track just a bit, before a dynamic take on "Dissolve Me" propelled things forward again.
The crowd then did their best to sing along to the nonsensical ramblings of Newman on their smash hit, "Fitzpleasure," while also flailing about awkwardly, looking to make any connection they could with the band's biggest song. And that's part of what proves to be elusive and exasperating about Alt-J -- even their hits lack a definitive essence or embraceable heart that listeners can eventually make their own. Their music, while technically sound and mildly inventive, ultimately lacks a soul.