Alt-J/Lord Huron – Rumsey Playfield – September 15, 2013
Late-summer breezes swept over Rumsey Playfield in Central Park last night as a sold-out crowd gathered to hear music by two remarkable sets of musicians. Lord Huron, an indie folk-rock band with rich soundscapes that really belong in an outdoor setting, performed first. Frontman Ben Schneider complimented the venue: “It feels real good to be back in New York on a night like this. It really is beautiful here.” Songs from the band’s debut full-length album, Lonesome Dreams, and their two previous EPs rang out as the light of day drained from the park. A gauzy backdrop of mountaintops was backlit in sunset colors for the duration of the set, giving Lord Huron’s music a palpable glow.
After a brief intermission, the grinning gentlemen of Alt-J took the fog-filled stage and launched straight into their set without saying a word. When I saw them play a much smaller New York City venue a year ago, they radiated a unique, infectious vibe and their music stayed with me for days afterward. The band’s trademark sound, which is characterized by perplexing arrangements and frequent a cappella harmonies, is somewhat complicated to reproduce in a live setting. Despite the difficulty, Alt-J strive to recreate their songs live in a way that gets the entire crowd to lean forward and sing along. While their repertoire is still relatively small, they make up for the brevity of their performance with sheer clarity in their delivery of the songs. The set was constructed around An Awesome Wave, last year’s debut album that’s garnered the quartet abundant praise, including the 2012 Mercury Prize.
Opening with “Intro,” their LP’s lead track, seemed fitting due to its name, although it was a bold move due to the deeply subdued elements of the instrumental song. When Alt-J launched into an especially beat-heavy version of “Fitzpleasure,” any worries I had that this show would be too quiet went out the window. “Bloodflood” came next and the set began to simulate the ebb and flow of the tide. “Buffalo” and “Something Good” soared with hushed vocals, agile guitar and constrained drum beats. “Tessellate” was an invitation to start dancing and sing along to the sultry lyrics and Jon Newman’s coarse voice. “Matilda” and “Dissolve Me” came next, each telling a story of unconditional love. “Hand-Made” slipped into a fine-drawn a cappella cover of College’s “A Real Hero.” “Taro” rounded out the set, and “Ms” and crowd-favorite “Breezeblocks” provided the encore. While the night of music was short, I’m sure everyone left feeling lucky to have spent one of the last days of summer swaying to music from some of the indie scene’s most talented crooners. —Schuyler Rooth