Photos by James Hjertholm
Figuring out how to describe Alt-J can be tricky. Simon & Garfunkel with a sampler? Their latest critically acclaimed album, This Is Yours, endlessly mutates from art-rock to folk harmonies to bluesy riffs. At a sold-out Tap1, in the shadows of the Carlsberg buildings, the quartet highlight their rhythmic and anthemic sides.
Opener Wolf Alice is a confusing listen. Stuck behind two obnoxious giants, I become temporarily convinced that I’m listening to Elastica. The North London band, fronted by Ellie Roswell, accumulate a wealth of sounds from 90s British indie rock, processing it through a vaguely shoegaze filter. Their live set emphasizes the raucous elements of their sound, but while their take on 90s nostalgia is expertly handled on songs like “Moaning Lisa Smile”, I spend most of the time trying to figure out what songs they are pastiching.
Arriving in Copenhagen at the tail-end of a European tour, Alt-J are clearly in good form. Starting with “Hunger of the Pine”, they shift between registers and moods with confidence, giving the set a more coherent feel than the album does. Tracks like “Every Other Freckle”, with its weird medieval-esque interlude, and the bluesy “Left Hand Free” have an added swagger to them, aided by the idiosyncratic drumming of Thom Green.
Though the close harmonies between Joe Newman and Gus Unger-Hamilton are not always completely in tune, even their odd little mistakes have a vulnerable charm. It helps that almost the entire audience seems to know every lyric, particularly on songs from their debut album like “Matilda”. No small feat, considering the phrasings of songs like “Bloodflow pt.II”.
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