On paper, the formula that makes up British experimental indie-rock band alt-J shouldn’t result in the massive success the group has found since its inception. Formed at Leeds College in the late 2000s and named for the keyboard sequence used to type the delta symbol (∆), the group developed a sound that eschews the clichés of modern rock music, yet still managed to quickly find a mainstream audience. On Friday night, the band brought its weird and unorthodox sound to Miami Beach’s Fillmore.
After a better-than-expected opening set by NoMBe, a Los Angeles-based electro-soul artist whose questionable name misrepresents his potential, alt-J took the stage at 9:15 to a boisterous reaction from the audience, and wasted no time in kicking off the show.
Playing to a sold-out crowd, alt-J arrived onstage with a massive, festival-ready light show already in place, with each band member separated by vertical light bars and large LED screens behind them.
Touring in support of Relaxer, its third album and most poorly received to date, alt-J stuck to a familiar game plan, with tracks from its debut record dominating the set list. After opening with “3WW,” the lead single off of Relaxer, the show adhered to a strategy: a new song every so often, followed by a burst of fan-favorites, rinse and repeat.
The group, performing as a trio on this tour for the first time in its career, used sampling and loopers to fill in gaps in its sound that remained following the departure of founding member Gwil Sainsbury and the dismissal of touring member Cameron Knight. Though this strategy exhibited each musician’s proficiency and didn’t result in the sound being diminished, it did keep each member of the band glued to their station throughout the show.
Driven by the heterodox rhythms of drummer Thom Green and the dueling vocals of Joe Newman and Gus Unger-Hamilton, alt-J is one of the few active bands that can claim to have a truly unique sound. But for all its success and innovation, alt-J has never been an outgoing group, and its members carry themselves stoically onstage. Frontman Newman never said a word to the audience, leaving the sparse crowd dialogue to keyboardist and multi-instrumentalist Unger-Hamilton.
The band’s generally minimalistic sound made the few loud, forceful songs of the night more affecting, with “Every Other Freckle” standing out as the highlight of the set. Following back-to-back new tracks “Adeline” and “Pleader,” the most pointed lull of the night, the main set ended on a heavier note with the bass-heavy fan-favorite “Fitzpleasure.”
After returning for the encore with the group’s first-ever song, An Awesome Wave’s “Intro,” the show ended with the one-two punch of “Left Hand Free” and “Breezeblocks,” easily the band’s most recognizable tracks, fulfilling the expectation to play the hits.
Since its last stop in Miami, alt-J has sustained a significant downgrade in venue, moving from the much larger Bayfront Park in 2015 to the Fillmore on Friday night. I found myself wondering whether this was due to the fact that the group has a second Miami show scheduled for Saturday night at the House of Creatives festival, or if it was because the lukewarm reception of Relaxer hurt its ability to sell tickets.
Though the show checked every box one would expect from an alt-J concert, easily meeting the standards of the many die-hard fans in attendance, one can only wonder how high the ceiling can be for a band that seems so disinterested in itself.
If you couldn’t make it to alt-J’s sold-out show at the Fillmore, you can catch them headlining Miami’s House of Creatives festival tonight in the city’s Historic Virginia Key Park, alongside MGMT and Washed Out.
2) Something Good
3) Interlude 1 >
7) In Cold Blood
8) Dissolve Me
10) The Gospel of John Hurt
12) Every Other Freckle
17) Intro (An Awesome Wave)
18) Left Hand Free