Looking down but know
where you’re looking
but you go
Do you know where you go?
You’re headed on the strings
Oh, coming out the woodwork
Chest bursts like John Hurt
Coming out of the woods.”
- alt-J “The Gospel of John Hurt”
Well I hope that I am not the only person who was a little sad when the Bonnaroo 2015 line-up announcement was found to be short of the Leeds natives, alt-J. I thought for sure they could pull it off, even if they were playing the Northside Festival in Denmark that same weekend. After all they did happen to play both festivals the same weekend in 2013. So when alt-J announced a North/South American tour, and that they would play Chastain Park Amphitheater in Atlanta, Ga. (with Tycho opening in support), I would call in sick if I had to in order to see this show. Wouldn’t you? This would be my first experience at Chastain Park Amphitheater and what a way to break my proverbial “cherry” than with alt-J.
Nestled in the middle of a suburban neighborhood, Chastain Park was perfect for alt-J’s triumphant return back to Atlanta where they played to a sold-out crowd on a breezy and crisp Saturday evening. After previously playing The Masquerade and The Tabernacle, this outdoor amphitheater has some of the best acoustics for music and this night’s performance would be no exception. The ambient, melodic sounds of Tycho and the experimental Afro-synth rock sounds of alt-J were so perfectly paired together for this tour. alt-J released their sophomore album, This Is All Yours, on September 22, 2014 to significant acclaim worldwide from many music critics. Despite longtime bassist and close friend, Gwil Sainsbury, leaving the band in early 2014, the band stuck it out to make one of their most successful years to date. With the addition of touring bassist, Cameron Knight, alt-J came to Atlanta to do one thing and one thing only. They came to play their hearts out.
The Sacramento native Tycho, better known as Scott Hansen, set the tone for the perfect night with his chill, hypnotic beats. Tycho has been on the music scene for some time. He released his first EP, The Science of Patterns, in 2002, and his first full-length album, Sunrise Projector, in 2004, on Gammaphone Records. This was my first experience with the music of Tycho and I was thoroughly impressed! Many friends had told me that I would enjoy him as the opener and they were correct. This reviewer will definitely catch his Bonnaroo performance this June and so should you if you’re attending. Tycho tours with a band consisting of two talented studio musicians: Zac Brown (no not that Zac Brown) on bass/guitar and Rory O’Connor on drums. That evening as the sun went down giving way to the twilight of the Georgia sky, the absorbing, psychedelic sounds consumed the night as Tycho marveled the crowd . Tycho is currently out touring in support of his latest release, Awake (2014), and will hit many more cities and festivals including Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Firefly.
Soon the moment of truth had arrived… nightfall settled in and the crowd become anxious for the return of alt-J. I last saw alt-J at Bonnaroo in 2013 and I had been eagerly awaiting for the band to hit the stage. They kicked off the night with their hit, “Hunger of the Pine” to the roar of the crowd. The piercing blue lights brilliantly flashed into the night sky as alt-J flawlessly wooed us with their performance. The sample of Miley Cyrus’s vocal track echoed throughout the crowd as many chanted along, “I’m the female rebel!” Immediately, the transition into “Fitzpleasure” began with the harmonious intro… “Tralala… Tralala… Tralala…” before a colossal light show coinciding with Joe Newman’s nasally falsetto vocals. The absence of cymbals from Thom Green’s drum kit must have given him a fever that could only be cured with a prescription calling for more cowbell throughout the night.
During “Matilda”, a track off their first release, An Awesome Wave, Newman let the crowd take part in the revelry, singing the closing refrain, “this is from Matilda… Matilda”. They would perform a strong, 15 song set which would include a great mix from both releases. This set-list featured a very unforgettable back-to-back performance of “Tessellate” and “Every Other Freckle” which was quite possibly the crown jewel of the night as Gus Unger-Hamilton and Joe Newman’s haunting vocals entranced the masses that gathered. A little improvisation was added to the ending of “Every Other Freckle” when Newman cranked his guitar for a little jam session much to the delight of the crowd. The final song of the opening set was my personal favorite off of their latest release, “The Gospel of John Hurt”.
Excitement filled my body as the lyrics, “No space/L-shaped/Tetris/Tile seeking/Somewhere/Oh somewhere/To fit in/Alien…” were uttered by Newman as the bright green lights mixed with the oozing fog. Call me a nerd, but creating a song based off of a scene from acclaimed director Ridley Scott’s seminal sci-fi classic, Alien (1979), is pretty bad ass. Inspired by the death scene of Hurt, this unforgettable cinematic moment stuck with Newman enough to write the lyrics “Chest burst like John Hurt/Coming out of the woods”. This was an emotional and powerful song that enchanted the audience as each member performed the song impeccably as the lights flashed overhead into the night sky.
alt-J would return onstage for a four song encore that ended with a dazzling performance of “Breezeblocks”. Knowing the chorus well, the crowd sang “Please don’t go/Please don’t go/I love you so/I love you so” with Newman and Unger-Hamilton as alt-J capped off an enchanting night under the stars at Chastain Park. A rousing applause filled the amphitheater as Unger-Hamilton thanked and wished the crowd a “…safe journey home…” Unger-Hamilton was very vocal throughout the entire night recognizing the enthusiastic, positive vibes that the crowd directed towards the band. The four band members met in the middle of the stage to say one last good-bye to the sea of fans that came.
Words can only describe the spectacle that is alt-J, but may fail to illustrate the emotional release that comes from their performance. al-J are currently about to embark on a nearly three month Pacific Realm/European tour till late July. They return for a brief five date stint in North America in late July, most notably Lollapalooza on July 31st, only to come back stateside once again later in the year for a second North American tour, September 12th-October 18th, ending in Seattle, Washington. So you still have a chance to go and make some memories with alt-J this year.