We are just a little shy of 12 months since Alt-J last played in Dublin’s fair city. Back then the likely lads from Leeds were in the Academy 2 and pimping their debut long player, An Awesome Wave. Now the boys are back in town doing a victory lap, the aforementioned album having won the Mercury Prize and topped many end-of-year polls (including State’s). This time round sees the venue elevated to the hallowed environs of Dame Street’s finest Victorian Music Hall, the Olympia. This was a highly anticipated show, having sold out long ago and the originally generously priced tickets were being offered for two to three times their face value by unscrupulous touts on the t’internet.
Given that they only have the one album in the bag, Alt-J were never going to be able to produce a set of Springsteen-esque length, so to offer the concert-going public some bang for their buck they provided not one but two support acts. First out of the blocks, and as the crowd trickle in, are Hundred Waters. It is the first overseas show for this quartet and, unlike our local black stuff, this Florida-based outfit travel well. Indie-pop/electro sensibilities with male and female vocals and a bit of the auld flute thrown in on top make for an accomplished and engaging set. Their closing number has an outro which was a good old crash-bang-wallop-wig-out of an affair on the keys, drums vocals and flute. Good stuff from these guys and definitely an act we should expect to hear more about in the foreseeable future.
Next up, and coming to us all the way from New Zealand is electro-pop singer-songwriter Princess Chelsea and her backing band. This antipodean four-piece play an interesting enough brand of synthpop. They are at their most interesting when rocking the glocks and keys (glockenspiels that is, they hadn’t gone all gangsta on our asses) and when they leave the stage they are sent off with a warm appreciative cheer from the steadily growing masses.
The humpers and shifters take to the boards to remove the remnants of the support acts’ tools and what’s left is a very sparse stage, not even a backdrop is hung to detract from the main focus of the evening, the music. A now heaving Olympia greets the returning heroes with a deafening roar, they begin with ‘Intro’ (what else) and then proceed to work though the guts of their debut with gusto. ‘Tessellate’ and ‘Something Good’ are dispatched early on. The Friday night crowd are in the mood for a party and are given the soundtrack to do it to. By the time ‘Matilda’ arrives, the Olympians are in full voice and deliver a pitch-perfect performance of the track leaving Joe Newman pretty much redundant. He doesn’t seem to mind though. The first main section of the night is rounded off by a stomping rendition of ‘Breezeblocks’ and the band return for the encore as a two-piece to deliver ‘Hand-Made’ before the rest of them join to segue into a beautiful rendition of ‘Taro’.
Overall, though, the show consists of too many facsimiles of what is on the album. It’s almost a year since An Awesome Wave hit the shops and, having clocked up many miles on the road since its release, it would be a fair assume that the songs would loosen ad flex over the intervening period yet it isn’t until they play ‘Breezeblocks’ that things get musically interesting. All in all a damn good show but was it a great one? Was it an awesome wave? They were riding the crest of a wave alright, a breaking wave but it wasn’t the tidal giant that it should have been. It’s a fine evening out and if a lesser group had delivered this performance it would have been a great gig but an act of Alt-J’s musical ability and vision are capable of producing a more inventive performance. Bands of this calibre need to be challenged and to be challenging. We and they both deserve it.
Photo: Debbie Hickey