Published Apr 08, 2013The sold-out crowd was seething with anticipation by the time ∆ (aka Alt-J) took the stage. Keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton came out hand-signing the band's symbol, while drummer Thom Green sat at his kit in a conspicuous Nardwuar t-shirt. Unger-Hamilton later explained what a great time they'd been enjoying in Vancouver, having been interviewed by the Human Serviette earlier that day. Moving through their album in sequence, they played the intro and the "❦ (Ripe & Ruin)" interlude from their Mercury Prize-winning debut album An Awesome Wave. By the time they hit "Tessellate," most of the dance floor was screaming every word. After that, they switched it around some, skipping forward to "Something Good" before playing "Buffalo" from the Silver Linings Playbook soundtrack, which few recognized.
One of the most interesting parts of their set was their mash-up cover of "Still D.R.E." by Dr. Dre with the vocals from "Slow" by Kylie Minogue. Mash-ups and pop covers are often the clichéd death of otherwise workable sets, but this particular contrast of source material and the style with which they pulled it off made it work. "Matilda" was undoubtedly the biggest sing-along of the set. As the song started, frontman Joe Newman let the crowd take over the hook, but sang the rest of the bittersweet Léon-based ballad along with them. Midway through their set, it was revealed to be baby-faced guitarist Gwil Sainsbury's 25th birthday. A cake was brought out, but the obligatory singing of "Happy Birthday" was only performed as an unorganized background gesture by the crowd. Still, it was a human moment to see him triumphantly blow out his candles, and flex his muscles in celebration.
While his voice comes across unabashedly unusual on record, Newman had a rather casual stage presence. He was seemingly unaware that he had a guitar most of the time, so when he played, it came off more like a realization. He looked approachable, although Unger-Hamilton tended to be the one to present their stage banter whenever he wasn't playing a Nord Electro 3, and triggering the gnarly synth sounds from "Dissolve Me" and "Fitzpleasure" with a Novation Impulse MIDI controller. That said, their catalogue is still quite limited. Though they can play well, and possess a cool sound, much of their material is starting to feel a little overplayed in the aftermath of 2012. One hopes they can plough through the sophomore album slump and build on the promise displayed here.