Live Report: Alt-J @ The Shrine Auditorium

Date: August 9th, 2017

Venue: The Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, CA

Bands: Alt-J, Sohn

This was my first time at the Shrine for a concert, and I first need to say it’s a well-put together for shows. There are no shortage of bars, the seats were comfortable and the sound was generally very clear. And for the first of Alt-J‘s shows at the Shrine, the venue was packed with passionate fans, wearing Alt-J t-shirts and clearly brimming with a pent-up need to profess their love to the British band.

Opener Sohn is a fellow Brit, bringing his R&B/Electronic Chill Wave music to the states for Alt-J’s tour. While I appreciated his big, soulful vocals, his initial songs did not win me over. By his fourth song “The Wheel”, I found myself a fan, as he and his backing three percussionists built the songs into triumphant soundscapes that filled the auditorium with a substantial energy. Even though the crowd did not seem initially familiar with Sohn‘s music, by the time he got to single “Conrad”, there was dancing and hands waving in the audience. Unfortunately Sohn‘s light show was so abrasive and seizure-inducing, I had to spend a good portion of his set with my eyes closed.

I must preface this next part by saying I am not a die-hard Alt-J fan. I know and like a couple of their songs, but having heard so many great things about them, I came in hopes their live show would convert me.

Unlike Sohn, Alt-J‘s light show was far less painful and much more intricate, which is good, because it helped cover up the group’s lack of real stage presence. There was little movement or audience interaction from the group, and when they made attempts to thank their fans, it was impossible to actually hear them.

Sonically, Alt-J are masters of weaving intricate melodies and off-kilter sounds together to create moody tapestries. There is no fault to their musicianship, though in a live setting, too many of these songs blended together and failed to engage me in a visceral way. There were exceptions of course. Recent single “In Cold Blood” sent waves of jittery shivers in its tingly hooks, and their hit “Left Hand Free”, one of their only true rockers, was a head-bobbing burner. The set highlight was “Dissolve Me”, the only one of their songs that truly connected with me on an emotional level.

Talking with my wife after the show, she was raving about how much every song hit the right spot for her musically, and she acknowledged that Alt-J were not a band really about lyrics, and their vocals were just another instrument. While I can appreciate this fact, the vocals were so weak they often got lost in the band’s busier songs. I wondered how different they would sound if hey had a stronger singer like Sohn fronting them.

By the show’s end, I had come to the conclusion that while Alt-J were a band I could admire, they were not a group I would ever be as excited by as 95% of the Shrine’s Audience were. If a band can’t manage to hold my attention despite a wall of sound and high-tech light show, there is definitely a disconnect.

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