Concert venues with seats still confuse me. Concert venues for rock concerts to be exact. Once I was inside The Theater at Solaire, I knew that whatever seat plan they had would be thrown out of the window. The venue was amazing, though. From its plush interiors, you knew it would have great acoustics to match, which thankfully it did.
We took our seats and there were only two of us on our row. We waited for the show to begin and people came trickling inside the venue. From the balcony, a guy kept shouting, drunk and impatient. “The show will begin in a few minutes,” a calm voice announced over the PA. And then, Alt-j entered the stage. As soon as the four shadows took their spots, people ran towards the front, ticket numbers all forgotten.
We chose an elevated spot and I was glad we did. Going to a concert nowadays is about looking over the height of the people in front of you plus the length of their outstretched arms plus the size of the gadget they are holding. Tough luck if you find yourself behind a person holding out an iPad.
They started out with Hunger of the Pine, a track from their sophomore album. The track perfectly set the atmosphere of the concert. It felt like the beginning of a trek, a slow ascent to the top, where you can still pace yourself. It was a daze as the band played one song after the other. Fitzpleasure came next and the energy was more palpable. There were more swaying, heads bobbing and a sort of controlled frenzy – that effect that Alt-j has on their listeners. My personal favorite, Something Good, began with the familiar drumming and I began to be transported to an entirely new place until I was awakened by the delicious, sweet smell of marshmallows. I looked to my right and I saw Anne Curtis, looking at the seats right in front of the stage, where I bet her ticket told her where she should be. With the confidence that people as good-looking as her has, she managed to part the crowd and made her way to the front. The marshmallow scent was gone and Alt-j pulled me back to reality. In Matilda, Joe Newman pointed to the crowd, his way of telling us to sing the first line. When all of us sang, “This is from Matilda”, he shook his head and smiled what seemed to be a disbelieving smile. It was as if he couldn’t believe the tender way we sang the lyrics back to him.
The thing that impressed me most was how clean they sounded live. I might have to chalk parts of it up to The Theater’s great sound system but there was no denying how their live performance is at par with their recorded version. There weren’t any noticeable cracks or slips – it was like traveling along a glassy sheet of calm sea. Upon recognizing the first few bars of the crowd favorite, Tesselate, I texted my friend about it. “That’s the most poetic song about sex!” she texted back. I don’t know about that, though, but what I’m sure is that their performance of this song was like witnessing a chamber opera unfold. The notes were soaring, the hooks were engulfing us and it felt like being in the presence of something big and unknown. But perhaps my favorite of the night was Warm Foothills. Joe Newman was without his guitar and his distinct voice took over. When he began whistling, I was sold that this was the night’s best for me. It felt like a choirboy performance, not because it was boring, but because it sounded ethereal, pure, short and sweet.
Not more than five minutes after bidding the crowd goodbye, they came back for the encore. Lovely Day and Nara both calmed the crowd who thought Alt-j were cutting short the gig. These two songs felt like a shot to the arm. Their last song, Breezeblocks, was when everyone began to feel the coming of the ending. Rushing the words to the song, you feel that everyone meant it. But as the cliché goes, all good things must come to an end. When the four of them took their final bow and exited, everyone slowly dispersed in groups, perhaps looking for confirmation that what happened indeed happened. As for me, I found myself muttering, “Please don’t go. I love you so” to one in particular.
View photos of Alt-J’s concert by Cecilia Forbes below: