alt-J | the Bridgewater Hall | Sunday 28th October
Sunday night was the first night this year that it’s dropped below freezing in Manchester and I spent more than an hour of it outside the Bridgewater Hall waiting to see if the fire-brigade would let us back in to see alt-J after the alarm went off in the interval. While on balance it was worth the wait, it was a close-run thing; I’m not into suffering for art. alt-J don’t really need an introduction – award winning, northern and, despite their ‘difficult second album’, still very cool. Their current tour is in support of their Reduxer project album and was sold out, so during the intermission 2000+ members of the audience were herded onto the barren marble forecourt under the acrid smell of burning plastic to be greeted by flashing blue-lights and firefighters. Newspapers say it was some kind of rubbish fire.
I hate the cold and the opening act, AK Patterson, was so great that I was all ready to call it a fun night well spent and head for home but Manchester audiences are tougher than that and while a few peeled off most of them showed absolutely no intention of moving. AK Patterson are playing again in Manchester on the 30th of January next year at the Castle Hotel and everyone should go and see them. Patterson is an haunting, evangelical preacher to gods of gritty harmony and there is something totally mesmerising about her voice and stage presence. A little bit of Jagger in her guitar style although not really in her sound, she’s backed by Nat Reading and Alfie Weedon on a combination of double bass, slide whistle, cello and probably some other bits and pieces I missed because I was too busy listening. The acoustics in that hall are (obviously) some of the best in the world and while I was very sceptical about being made to listen to music like alt-J’s, that always begs to be danced to, on soft seats in fixed rows AK Patterson was a joy to hear vibrating so cleanly through to us. It made me want to listen to all my music in special spaces designed carefully for just that purpose.
I think part of the reason alt-J were at the Bridgewater was because their set was mostly made up of songs from Reduxer which is made up of remixes of last year’s album Relaxer and which are described as reimagined by a host of fans friends and peers including some of the world’s most influential and prolific hip-hop artists, so that perhaps this was meant to be more of a translation and musical event than gig? One of the best things about the show was the lighting rigs: 16 walls of light rods hanging down from the ceiling and coming up in the floor so Joe Newman, lead vocals and guitar, Thom Sonny Green on the drums, and Gus Unger-Hamilton on his keyboard were all kinds of caged-in and separated from each other by crazy flashes and waves of colour. The lights either linked up to the snare drums and occasionally other sounds or just pulsed on their own weird rhythm but the effect was magic.
I can’t help but prefer the originals of most of the songs but they put on a great show and many of the combinations are so unexpected that they are exciting even if just for the new textures. ‘Hit Me Like That Snare’ and ‘Adeline’ (with Feat. Paigey Cakey & Hex) went down really well with audience; there was a lot of singing along and occasionally people jumping up to dance in front of their seats. My personal favourite was ‘Dissolve me’ with everyone shouting out “she makes the sound she makes” and a blue with yellow polka dot flashing light effect. All the remixes are pretty recognisable and there was a good moment with Pusha-T being projected up around them for ‘In Cold Blood’ so the band was ‘sharing the stage’ with their collaborator but more information would’ve been good. I would definitely have welcomed more chat about the songs; they should have told us who they worked with and who’s arrangement it was. It might have been that they were pressed for time and didn’t want to drag the show on with unnecessary talking and given that they started 10 minutes before they were meant to end I have nothing but respect for all the staff at the Bridgewater Hall and for alt-J for going ahead it the show at all. Not to mention the rest of our commitment to the cause, everyone jumped up to dance for the encore even. Just as well since, in case anyone was in any doubt, there are no busses or trains or anything out of the centre of Manchester on Sunday night after 12, so we needed the warm up.
by Tessa Harris