Concert Review! Alt-J @ Kool Haus, Toronto, Canada
We are non-apologetic Alt-J fans here at PeteHatesMusic. We caught them a couple of times in 2013 (at Osheaga, and at Sound Academy), and happened to catch them before they released their Mercury Prize winning debut, when they played for free at St. Pancras International Train Station in London, England. Hey, sometimes you’re ahead of the curve.
Since then, the band have released another excellent album, this one called This is All Yours. The band hit the Kool Haus for what could be one of the last great shows at this venue before it shuts its doors in early 2015 to become – yup, another fuckin’ condo, in a city that needs a new condo like we all need a free U2 album on our iPhones.
Unfortunately, the new album didn’t translate as well live as I had hoped. This was evident from the get go, with opener Hunger of the Pine. The band came out to an extended intro of the song, with a pulsating red light, somewhat reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey (and definitely not giving me horrific nightmares before bedtime). The vocals were a little weak, and the song came across as a mess at times, with the unique parts never really meshing in the live setting.
The crowd erupted for the debut album track Fitzpleasure. Alt-J showed off some cool LED light screens, which changed colour and added to the visual presence of the band. The driving beat of Something Good followed, and had the crowd bobbing along. A piano was simulated on the backing LEDs, which again looked impressive.
My prediction of Left Hand Free getting the biggest cheers was wrong, as “the song written for North America audiences” had a lukewarm reception. The band tore through it, and then jumped into Dissolve Me. The crowd was really into the quiet song, and belted those lengthy vocal parts.
Singer Joe Newman’s vocals were hit and miss throughout the night, but were spot on for the delicate Matilda, with some excellent rhythms played by the band.
The band hit the crowd with Bloodflood and then the newer Bloodflood pt. II. The second part is an incredibly complex and layered track on the recent album. However, the nuances were lost, as the band failed to replicate the many sounds they threw on the album in the studios, and the sounds they chose to replace them live didn’t have the same impact.
Next up was Interlude 1 (Ripe & Ruin), or SHESHESHE according to the setlist photo I received in advance of the show. Tessellate followed and brought the show back to life. Perhaps one of the bigger differences for this new tour is the older songs are often more upbeat, and involve drummer Thom Green and his drumming strengths in a more fitting manner.
The mid-song interlude for “the incredibly erotic” Every Other Freckle was great, as was follow up track Taro. The band ended the regular set with two new tracks – Warm Foothills and The Gospel of John Hurt, which featured some good sounds.
The encore kicked off with the hidden song on the new album, Lovely Day, which is a Bill Withers cover tune. The standout track at the show, and arguably the album, was Nara. This was followed somewhat paradoxically by the preceding track on the album, Arrival in Nara.
We finally got to hear the singer speak to the crowd twice, when he said “I’ve fucked up” and “Oh, I’ve fucked up again” during the intro to the last track of the night, Breezeblocks. The song was a powerful end to a decent set. The live show demonstrated how far the band has come with their songwriting, but also shows some of the holes in replicating these tracks live.
PHM Rating for Alt-J: 7.0/10
Setlist for Alt-J at Kool Haus, Toronto, Ontario, Canada – November 11, 2014
1 – Hunger of the Pine
2 – Fitzpleasure
3 – Something Good/Estocada
4 – Left Hand Free
5 – Dissolve Me
6 – Matilda
7 – Bloodflood
8 – Bloodflood pt.II
9 – Interlude 1 (Ripe & Ruin)
10 – Tessellate
11 – Every Other Freckle
12 – Taro
13 – Warm Foothills
14 – The Gospel of John Hurt
15 – Lovely Day
16 – Nara
17 – Arrival in Nara
18 – Breezeblocks