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(Credit: George Muncey)


Alt-J put on the spectacular at Manchester's O2 Apollo

Alt-J - Manchester O2 Apollo

It is over a decade since Alt-J won the Mercury Prize with their acclaimed debut album, An Awesome Wave, and since that moment they’ve carved a peculiar niche for themselves in modern music. After witnessing their recent show in Manchester, it’s safe to say there’s nobody else quite like Alt-J.

Alt-J have always been outliers and unafraid to be different. The band refuse to be pigeonholed and, somewhat surprisingly, they are one of the UK’s most successful exports of the last decade, wearing their unusual idiosyncrasies as a badge of honour.

Manchester’s O2 Apollo is rather intimate for Alt-J in 2022. They are taking on Brixton Academy for a four-night residency which begins on May 17th before concluding on Friday evening. Additionally, they’ve just returned from their American tour, which included a date at Madison Square Garden.

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Witnessing the band at a 3,500 capacity venue feels like a privilege, and even as The Chemical Brothers rang out during the pre-show interval, the anticipation became palpable. No expense was spared when it came to their stage set-up. It featured keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton, drummer Thom Green, and vocalist Joe Newman performing on a raised platform as kaleidoscopic lights dazzled throughout the performance from when they arrived on stage at 9:00pm.

Earlier this year, Alt-J released their fourth album, The Dream, and fittingly they began their set with ‘Bane’, which opens the record. However, as a band, they managed to maintain a pleasant balance between each era of the band without emphasising too heavily on the new release.

Still, it was a tour to promote their new record, therefore, they rightly dedicated a strong portion of the set to their youngest baby. The material translated well to the stage, with the singles ‘U&ME’ and ‘Hard Drive Gold’ particularly receiving a feverish reaction from the surprisingly lively Manchester crowd.

Tender moments in the set, such as ‘Matilda’ and Reducer cut ‘3WW’, led to everyone in the building singing in unison, aided by the stellar acoustics of the O2 Apollo. Additionally, the venue also made Alt-J’s gorgeous harmonies sound even sweeter.

Despite their success, Alt-J are a band that most would struggle to recognise on the street, and camera-shy frontman Newman lets the music do the talking for him. His words were kept to a minimum throughout, with the politely spoken Unger-Hamilton doing most of the crowd work, including a moment of solidarity with Ukraine as he leads the audience into a ‘Fuck Putin’ chant.

When the songs are as stimulating as Alt-J boast, you don’t have to fall into the standard tropes we associate with rock frontmen, and Newman’s unassuming presence shows there’s more than one way to skin a cat. While the group managed to keep the momentum running throughout the joyous proceeding, songs from their debut album, An Awesome Wave, were the most engaging. ‘Tesselate’ was euphoric, ‘Fitzpleasure’ felt like utter pandemonium, and the closing track, ‘Breezeblocks’, was spine-tingling.

Seeing Alt-J live is an activity good for the soul and will leave you feeling enrichened. Even if you’re not sold on their records, the three-piece are a different entity live, and their concerts are an immersive experience that might blow your mind.