Chicago – English experimental rock band alt-J has come along way since its formation in 2007 in a Leeds University dorm room. With a new member and new album, the band has been selling out show after show, including two sold-out dates at Chicago’s Riviera.
Joe Newman (singer & guitarist), Thom Green (drummer), Gus Unger-Hamilton (keyboardist), and Gwil Sainsbury (guitarist) started recording songs on GarageBand between classes and studying. After graduation, a move to Cambridge, and a few name changes, the band signed with Infectious Records in 2011 and released the self-titled EP ∆, followed by their debut LP An Awesome Wave in 2012 amid constant touring. The guys quickly became a fixture on the festival circuit. However, the strain of touring and the whole rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle was a bit too much for Sainsbury. He departed the band at the start of 2014, and was eventually replaced by Cameron Knight.
This fall, alt-J released their sophomore album This Is All Yours (Canvasback Music/Atlantic Records). As expected, it received phenomenal praise from music critics. Best New Bands declared This Is All Yours “hits all the right notes in all the right places, painting an expansive landscape of sound, leaving the listener with a full heart and mind, with just the right amount of ‘Huh?’ that one expects from Britain’s resident eccentric song-crafters.” That landscape transferred beautifully live on Saturday night.
The foursome played a mix of new and old, from the recent singles “Left Hand Free” and “Hunger of the Pine” to past radio hits “Fitzpleasure” and “Tessellate.” They also played “Bloodflood” parts I & II back-to-back, which was amazing!
Fans sang along to every song, but it was “Matilda” that was done with the most heart. During this song, couples swayed in embraces, exchanging kisses between verses. Wonder if they know the song was inspired by Léon: The Professional? Regardless, emotion radiated from the stage and throughout the floor up to the balcony.
Newman and the gang barely said a word between songs, but the quiet made the music all the more powerful. In fact, the men of alt-J were barely noticeable. They were bathed in darkness most of the show. Brilliant lights and patterns glowed from the stage, making the lads silhouettes and letting the music speak for itself.
After “The Gospel of John Hurt,” alt-J left the stage but soon came back for a four-song encore. They covered Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day,” which just so happens to be a hidden track on This Is All Yours and one of the most unique takes on the classic song. The night ended with “Breezeblocks” and a very loud sing-along.
Fellow Brits Lovelife started the night off with their killer synthpop. The quartet consists of Leonard “Lee” Newell (vocals), Ally Young (keyboards), Samuel Jackson (guitar), and Franklin Colucci (drums), three of whom previously made up the indie rock band Viva Brother. After the breakup, the Englishmen Newell, Jackson, and Colucci found themselves back together again with a newfound love for Britpop and Ally Young.
Lovelife has released a handful of EPs but has yet to release a full-length. Nevertheless, they’ve grown a following in the UK and the U.S. Songs like “Dying to Start Again,” “Tonight,” and “The End of the World” draw you in with danceable beats. Even slower songs like “Your New Beloved” force your body to slink along to the beat. The room danced along, waving hands in the air, and brought Newell to shout, “Thank you, thank you, thank you Chicago! You really are fabulous!”
Alt-J is on tour now. Click HERE for tour dates. This Is All Yours is available for purchase on iTunes. You can check out Lovelife’s EP collection on iTunes.
Photos By Sarah Hess
After attending The School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Sarah went on to study education at Dominican University, earning a degree in history. When not teaching, writing, or taking in a show, she is most likely to be found with a camera to her eye or hanging out in a darkroom.
You can follow Sarah Hess on twitter at @Sarahhasanh and view her music photography on her website: smhimaging.com.