Published Sep 13, 2015As they did in 2014, English rockers alt-J kicked off their extensive tour at Vancouver's Deer Lake Park —with a sprawling green lawn and lake backdrop, it was a fitting setting for their emphatic, ornate compositions.
Brooklyn-based baroque band San Fermin — who, like the headliners, also have their roots in university, in this case Yale instead of Leeds — opened things up. The eight-piece included a saxophone, trumpet and violin, which added an orchestral backbone to gritty rock grooves, electronic undertones and dynamic, operatic vocals.
The sun had nearly made its decent behind the stage, the sky a creeping yellow and deep navy, when alt-J strapped into their instruments without a word and broke into "Something Good," their bodies' black silhouettes against strobing beams and wafts of smoke.
"I'm struggling with my voice today, if you could help me," said Joe Newman, apologizing for feeling a bit under the weather and encouraging the obliging audience to sing along. The beginning portion was fast-paced, with fuzzed-out riffs and a soulful organ breakdown on "Left Hand Free" and pummelling drums on "Every Other Freckle." Glittery keys and heart-pounding thumps that reverberated out into the open air moved the set into more ambient places on "Bloodflood, Pt. II," with rippling blue backing lights emulating the gentle washes of synth.
After leaving the stage for just a minute, a four-song encore began with "Hunger of the Pine," its moody textures building up to the Miley Cyrus-sampled hook. "Warm Foothills," framed by wistful whistles and achingly sharp keys, saw Newman hit impossibly high notes without flaw or vocal break. "Taro" and "Breezeblocks" concluded the night on the spirited note it started with, rounding out with hard-hitting drums, pulsating lights and sharp feedback.
Then, after a heartfelt thank you, alt-J left, leaving a gust of hazy red smoke in their mysterious wake.