Live Review: Alt-J at the Greek Theatre

April 16, 2015
Greek Theatre

When attending a sold-out show at the Greek Theatre, expect a near Messiah level of adoration from the crowd. Despite last night's steep $60 ticket price, the 8,500 capacity outdoors amphitheater was teeming with ecstatic, barely 21-year-olds. Preppy collared shirts and H&M tank tops with fabric strategically cut-out overwhelmed the staggered valley of fans.

It's a strange contrast to scan thousands of near-blissful faces and realize you are listening to a very pleasant set from a very polite band. Alt-J's name refers to the delta symbol, which means “change” in equations, but its performance lacked revolution. The four members moved little onstage, all wore black, and kept their lighting minimalistic and geometric. You could derive the same amount of joy from listening to one of Alt-J's records on high-priced headphones — but that's entirely okay. It only means that Alt-J are a wildly successful studio band, and that success, based off of an album's merit, can translate to headlining the Greek Theatre two nights in a row.

A nice jaw line doesn't hurt either.

Crisp, sharp tribal beats with a synth flair (electro-tribal? afro-electro?) carried over guitarist Joe Newman and keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton's English vocals. The music itself is moving and spiritual, often referring to books, movies, the band member's experiences. There's catharsis inside of the melodies, a soothing strength which explains why Bay Area yoga instructors always throw a track or two into a session's mix.

Alt-J played “Matilda” and encouraged the crowd to sing-along, so they did.  During “Warm Foothills,” a very quiet ballad with a lovely whistling solo, a surprising amount of lighters were thrust upwards, (along with people opening the flashlight app on their smart phones). “Arrival In Nara” was beautifully paced with a minute and a half devoted to piano chords as light as composer Kaczmarek's. “Breezeblocks” appropriately ended the night's encore, with everyone chanting “Please don't go, please don't go. I love you so, I love you so…”

Critic's Notebook:

• A guy told his girlfriend while hurrying out after the show that he thought the lyrics to “Breezeblocks” should be changed to, “I love you so, I'll eat your soul.” I mean, he's not wrong. “Breezeblocks” is actually based off of the children's book Where The Wild Things Are. At one point the monster yells, “Oh, please don't go! We'll eat you whole! We love you so!”

• Kids trying to sneak onto better vantage points while security guards patrolled looked like they were in a human version of whack-a-mole. 

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