Alt-J (with Hundred Waters)
The art-rock British group Alt-J (∆) played two sold out shows at Paradise Rock Club this weekend. Alt-J and Boston are in the midst of a budding relationship — the group sold out Great Scott and Brighton Music Hall in the fall and they’re headlining the Bank of America Pavilion later this year. All things considered, they’re practically going steady with this city.
Alt-J’s debut album, An Awesome Wave, is heavily produced and packed with electronically manufactured sounds, atypical composition and piercing, yet harmonious, vocals. Before the show, I was curious whether the band could replicate the studio sound live or if they would fall flat like so many other studio wizards.
They played a short set of practically every song that exists under the Alt-J moniker. Joe Newman’s eccentric voice enchanted in the intimate club setting and Gus Unger- Hamilton’s dub-inspired keys gave songs such as “Fitzpleasure” the brooding sound that hits audiences in the gut.
Despite these elements, the show’s real all-stars were guitarist/bassist Gwil Sainsbury and drummer Thom Green. While Newman and Unger-Hamilton were sedentary, Sainsbury and Green filled the stage with charisma. The two fed off each other, constantly locking eyes and navigating the songs’ strange time signatures.
Green and Sainsbury provided the freedom and vivacity that live music needs. While I enjoyed the set, at times I felt as if Alt-J wasn’t deviating from the album. The band would benefit tremendously from more improvisation — and with a drummer like Green, they shouldn’t ever have trouble transitioning from any jams. Improvisation would give the band a stronger stage presence and give each show an individuality that would make it easier to justify throwing down the cash to see them at larger venues. They’re a young and talented band and I’m confident they’ll refine their live act with more touring and songs to their name.
The opening act, Hundred Waters, intrigued me, combining a delicate and folksy sound with moments of pure abstraction, menacing keyboard and frantic drumming. Lead singer and flautist Nicole Miglis was entertaining with her whispery vocals but, once again, the drummer, Zach Tetreault, was the most captivating member of the band — and in talking to other audience members, the opinion seemed to be unanimous. Hundred Waters had both intriguing elements and dull moments of abstract indulgence, however, Tetreault was on top of every song.
Last month, the indie hip-hop group Why? delivered a fantastic show at the sold out Brighton Music Hall. As a performer, lead-singer Yoni Wolf was highly entertaining, cracking jokes with the audience and goofily dancing around stage. His quick wit impressed many, and the group’s banter was genuinely hilarious.
I was totally unprepared for this show to be so captivating. I recognized two songs throughout the night while the audience spat each of Wolf’s rapid-fire, quirky and loquacious lyrics alongside the singer. Even so, I was entranced by the brilliant musicality of Wolf’s band.
At the forefront were Why?’s two brilliant drummers (and xylophone players). Like Alt-J, Why? is a band that constantly changes time-signatures and tempos, yet the drummers were prepared for every moment.
Give The Drummer Some:
Perhaps it is because I was raised on a healthy diet of 4/4, but these drummers who can navigate time signatures with such ease enthrall me. Yes, I still love my standard rock drummers of the world, but it’s truly amazing to see one of these art-rock/hip-hop drummers live. It’s fascinating to see them effortlessly hide the work they’re putting into simply remembering and keeping track and time of all the crazy changes.
They’re the unsung heroes of these groups. Alt-J gets press for their vocals and keyboards and Why? for Wolf’s great lyricism. However, without these drummers on stage, the bands wouldn’t be the same.
So here’s a shout out to the drummers of Alt-J, Why? and Hundred Waters. The pain of the ghost notes on your legs is completely worth it.