Alt-JStubb’s, March 13
In the fiery wake of Nick Cave and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Alt-J faced a high bar to justify its status as headliners of Wednesday night’s NPR Music showcase. Happily, the Mercury Prize-winning quartet from Leeds, England, proved enthralling on its own terms. Regaled and derided for a cut-and-paste concoction of art rock and beats, Alt-J’s subtle nods toward early Seventies British folk humanized the group live. Joe Newman’s skittering vocals found enrichment in backing harmonies that evoked a sense of warmth amid urban desolation. Stripped of drums and electronic accoutrements, tunes like “Matilda” from 2012’s An Awesome Wave wouldn’t be out of place in a coffeehouse. Of course, it’s impossible to imagine “Tessellate” and “Something Good” inciting a Festival crowd like this to bounce in place without the whole package. The band’s innovative formula edged toward formulaic at times, most noticeably in overly consistent tempos from one song to the next. Even so, strategic tweaks in arrangements – a xylophone passage here, an Ennio Morricone spaghetti Western lick there – kept things rapt.