Alt-J concert review

Midland Theater, Kansas City

April 2, 2013

Let me explain a little something about my co-host, co-ninja, co-concert attender Peterman Pedro Inteligente Smart. He likes to exaggerate. Well, I can’t honestly say he LIKES it, but he DOES it. A lot. And by a lot I’m talking both frequency and severity. In fact, his hyperbolizing became so frequent and disruptive a number of years ago, I was forced to develop an arithmetic system to help me understand the size and scope of some of his claims. It’s called the Pete Rule of Ten.

Here’s how it works... You take the Claim of Pete (Cp), determine if the direction of the exaggeration is down (D) , i.e. “I could still 360 dunk a year ago,” in which case you multiply by 10 (answer: he could do that dunk 10 years ago), or if the direction is up (U), i.e. “This is my favorite album in the past 20 years,” in which you divide by 10 (answer: favorite album in the past 2 years). A flow chart would probably be the best pictorial representation of how it all shakes out, but as an equation it would look something like this:

Cp=claim of Pete, D=downward exaggeration, U=upward exaggeration, T=truth.

So, in the case of a “D,” Cp X 10 = T

And in the case of “U,” Cp / 10 = T

Got it?

There is a reason I’ve explained this phenomenon, and it relates to the Alt-J show at the Midland Theater on 4/2/13. Roughly 6 or 7 songs into the set on this fine Kansas City night, after I had decided I was becoming a bigger and bigger fan of Thom Green (Alt-J drummer), Mr. Inteligente leans over to me and states: “He’s my favorite drummer of the past 10 years.” At that precise moment, like a flashcard from 6th grade, this image pops into my mind: Cp / 10 = T. My math teacher was right! I would use equations in everyday life!

Now that I’ve taken you on a small journey that (if my math is correct) brought us directly to the truth (T) of how Peterman felt about the drummer of this band (favorite in the past oneyear), I will say that’s still a significant statement. We see a decent amount of live shows. We trade live performance videos via email like Garbage Pail Kids (…aaaaand dated myself). Also, we try our best to avoid the suck shows and suck videos of suck musicians playing suck drums. As a result, any statement placing any musician in that kind of “favorites” category means they are pretty damn unbad at what they’re doing.

This was no exception. Dude was pretty legit. Part of it had to do with the fact that the other 3 members of the band were essentially backlit for the majority of the show and he was not, but I think my eyes would have been drawn to his abilities regardless of the stage lighting setup.

Before I go any further, here is the setlist:

Interlude 1

Tessellate

Something Good

Buffalo

Dissolve Me

Fitzpleasure

Slow Dre (Kylie Minogue cover)

Matilda

Interlude 2

Bloodflood

Ms

Breezeblocks

Encore:

Hand-Made

A real Hero (College cover)

Taro

Seeing a band tour after their first album is kind of a special thing. You can pretty much rest assured you’re going to hear the entire album, and if you’re lucky, a cover or two. This particular show was not an exception to that general axiom. However, the cover is typically not the highlight of the night. Strangely (because I loved this album so much), on this night I think it was. “Slow Dre,” the Kylie Minogue/Dr. Dre hybrid cover was a confusing, and honestly just flat groovy little surprise jam that I’d never heard before Tuesday night. Now that I’ve researched it and heard the different versions floating around the www, I’m slightly embarrassed I didn’t recognize the “Still Dre” part of the groove when I first heard it, but I will take a little hipster solace in the fact that I kept telling the people around me it was straight hip-hop before I actually knew it was, well, almost straight hip hop. Here’s a decent version of it:

Other than that little curveball and the song “Buffalo”,they played essentially the entire album, An Awesome Wave. They kicked it all off with the first three tracks of the album in succession, which I would guess upset absolutely nobody. The stage setup was fairly straightforward with decently elaborate lighting, considering this was their first major tour.

The theater was sold out (3,000ish people), and I was told before the show that for some reason they’ve hit it bigger here (KC) than in any other U.S. city. This was their second show here in the past 4 months, and judging by the crowd energy, that wasn’t too many. Overall, if you were a fan of their first album, you had to be a fan of this show. If you went in looking for that transformative moment that can happen at a concert that just levels you to your own mind floor, I’m not sure you got it. There were no moments that were much more powerful live than they are on the album. There weren’t many meanderings, added solos, added pauses, primal screams, or slap your own mama in the mouth instances. But that’s okay. Those moments are typically grown on the road. They develop. They are both spontaneous and cultivated, and this is a band in its infancy.

The fact that they’re relatively green in the touring game, combined with the fact that their overall sound is pretty much unlike anything else out there right now, equals the potential for a pretty terrible live experience. The music itself is complex and I would guess challenging to pull off live, and Joe Newman (lead singer) has a voice that is, how should I say, 1 part Kermit, 2 Parts Brett Dennen, and maybe another 1 or 2 parts “is that autotune or his actual voice?” Those are ingredients for a show that is potentially squirming-in-your-seat uncomfortable to watch. But it wasn’t at all. It’s like they took hot sauce and vodka and salt and a mango and made a delicious cupcake out of it.

It is, it’s like that.

Cupcakes are good.

Here’s one from the KC show: