The buzziest of all the buzz bands, British indie-rockers Alt-J packed the sold-out Neptune Theatre Saturday night with an almost comically enthusiastic crowd, the audience fervor easily overshadowing any of the music played by the sleepy quartet. Have you heard the band’s sole record, An Awesome Wave? If so, there’s little reason to venture out to one of the band’s shows, as rote, bloodless recreations are all that await you. I feel bad for anyone who paid the $100+ these tickets were going for on the scalpers’ market just to hear “Breezeblocks” warbled live.
At least those who got there early were treated to a fantastic set by Gainesville, Florida’s Hundred Waters, a band that possesses all that genre-hopping innovation that’s been ascribed somewhat misleadingly to the headliner. An appealing mix of art-rock and freak-folk reminiscent of Calgary’s BRAIDS as if fronted by Björk, Hundred Waters’ songs are at turns prickly and shimmering, with Nicole Miglis’ achingly ethereal vocals acting like a canopy above the band’s improvisational tendencies.
Overcoming a problematic sound mix that buried Miglis a little, the band served up an engrossing cross-section of their self-titled debut LP — among the selections, the glitchy, jackknifing “Thistle,” the lyrical, flute-buoyed “Sonnet” and the pastoral gorgeousness of “Boreal.” Not to be too diagrammatic, but the experimentation and openness in Hundred Waters’ live renditions of its album cuts made it that much more obvious how turgid Alt-J’s locked-down performances were.
Now, I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of Alt-J’s debut, but there are interesting musical top-notes scattered throughout — the clackety trip-hop sound of “Fitzpleasure,” the bouncy keyboards on “Dissolve Me.” Even frontman Joe Newman’s polarizing scrunched-up voice works for me for the most part. I just have a hard time feeling like most of the songs really hold together at their core, and the live show does nothing to counteract that feeling.
Working with only an album’s worth of songs, I could understand how the highly in-demand Alt-J could be a little sick of running through a setlist with very limited permutations. But that doesn’t make indifference interesting, whether it’s applied to crowd interaction or a fairly catchy tune like “Taro,” to say nothing of a mawkish ballad like “Matilda.” Even ideas that sound intriguing on paper — an a cappella cover of College’s “A Real Hero” and a Kylie Minogue/Dr. Dre mash-up — were pretty humdrum when experienced in real life.
Based on the Neptune’s crowd, Alt-J has nothing to prove to its legions of adoring fans, but going through the motions reproducing a likable but shallow album isn’t much of a way to gain any new ones.Powered by Sidelines