Alt-J – Madison Square Garden – March 30, 2015
Conquering the shores of America has never been easy for most British bands. Sure there are the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Radiohead, to name a few, but on the whole, it’s not a simple feat. And now, Alt-J have not only conquered the States but they’ve also played the legendary Madison Square Garden. NPR has lauded the band with high praise: “No one else is making music like this. This is an original, innovative band with a brilliant present and a brighter future.” And with only two albums to their name, the four-piece—including Cameron Knight, who’s replaced one of the founding members, Gwil Sainsbury, on bass and sampler—conquered a sold-out MSG last night.
I’ve often shied away from arena shows, longing for the ambience of a smaller, more intimate venue, but I wouldn’t let myself miss another chance to see Alt-J live. The crowd rumbled into applause and cheers as the house lights dimmed to welcome the quartet to a backlit stage. Lead vocalist Joe Newman creeped into “Hunger of the Pine” to kick off the set, however the performance was largely a trip down memory lane with the bulk of the set list comprised of material from their debut album, An Awesome Wave, and fans joined in to sing along to favorites “Fitzpleasure” and “Matilda.”
Leaving the music to speak for them, Alt-J didn’t utter much more than a few thank-yous and some genuine appreciation to be in New York City, playingt their biggest local venue to date. And as a nod to their own hometown, the band pulled out “a really old song,” “Leon,” from their Leeds days. Newman’s and keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton’s choral-like vocals rang across the cavernous building as drummer Thom Green pounded the skins, particularly shining on the encore’s closing song, “Breezeblocks.”
Despite my qualms about seeing Alt-J in such a large venue, their music seemed to transcend space, transporting me back to my days of hitting festivals in the UK while still enclosed in hallowed MSG. I couldn’t help but join in for the final serenade of “Please don’t go, please don’t go, I love you so, I love you so” because the audience and I didn’t want the show to end. The lads from Leeds have certainly won over New York City, if not America. —Sharlene Chiu
Photos courtesy of Gregg Greenwood | gregggreenwood.com