A conspicuous notice board at the top of North Greenwich tube station’s escalators promised that the throngs of people gathered around it – attracted by the fact the accompanying message was addressed specifically to alt-J fans – would be in for “something good”. The two words were underlined, as were a myriad of other phrases not-so-subtly injected into the usual “don’t run, keep to the left” tube guidelines, in homage to a few of the song titles to be performed in that night’s set when the crowd was finally finished photographing the board and had settled down in their seats.
The ensuing show, part of their RELAXER tour following the release of their third fully-fledged album, was one of a succession of stops the trio were scheduled to make over the coming weeks, having finished a date in Berlin three days earlier, and the awaiting crowd would no doubt have forgiven them for being slightly run down. They weren’t.
The lights finally dimmed down to the expected raptures of the waiting London faithful, and the first notes of ‘3WW’ rang out, sounding as crisp and clean as they do on the record. The set, featuring material from all three albums to date, was as varied in tone and tune as one would expect of an alt-J show, given their catalogue. From ‘Something Good’ and ‘Matilda’ eliciting the obligatory arm waving and shoulder sitting that a venue like the O2 demands, to the final flurries of ‘The Gospel Of John Hurt’, ‘Bloodflood’ and ‘Pleader’, which duly did their jobs of turning Joe Newman, Thom Green and Gus Unger-Hamilton into new-age cult leaders, guiding their enthralled flock with thick crescendos that ebbed and flowed in time with the alien lights silhouetting their forms from behind. Meanwhile, the likes of ‘Left Hand Free’, ‘Fitzpleasure’ and ‘Deadcrush’ drew headbangs galore, and even the beginnings of a mosh pit from the ever tuneful crowd, singing lyrics and ‘la’s alike right back at the trio on stage.
The intricate, complex nature of an alt-J song leaves it with a high standard for the band to meet when playing live, and they met that high standard throughout the entire show. Thom’s percussion was a behemoth, while Gus and Joe’s vocals and varied instrumentation dovetailed effortlessly together to make this one hell of a night for alt-J fans.