Two months since the release of its fourth studio album, The Dream, and a decade since the art-rock icon’s debut, alt-J has formed not only an instantly recognizable aesthetic, but also gathered an undying fan base. On April 1, thousands of fans packed into San Francisco’s Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, met with the band’s emblematic vision and outstanding openers Cherry Glazerr and Portugal. The Man.
Even after producing 2010s mainstays such as “Breezeblocks,” alt-J has proven its ability to adapt to the alternative scene’s ever-shifting ecosystem. While the band impresses musically, however, the group’s performance style is even more distinctive than its discography.
Rather than prancing around the stage and smashing guitars, the band brought stunning visuals to life on a prism of transparent screens. The mesmerizing lighting and other visual tricks throughout the show allowed alt-J to focus on its performance without being preoccupied with theatrics. At times the band appeared underwater, and at others the group seemed to float through the cosmos — all while thrilling its audience with Joe Newman’s imposing vocals and incredible instrumentation from keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton and drummer Thom Sonny Green.
To kick the show off, the arresting, commercial-like line “cold and sizzling” echoed through the auditorium, met with screams of excitement from the concertgoers. As the trio began playing “Bane,” the crowd got a taste of the visual feat in store as enchanting projections of candles flickered around the band. Singing “I sold my soul/ For a sip at school,” the performance was both haunting and entrancing, serving as a perfect introduction for the evening.
Certain to include past chart-toppers, alt-J played equal parts of old and new works. The band’s 2012 hit “Tesselate” was one of the night’s many highlights, with projections of menacing sharks and other sea creatures circling the group as Newman sang the fitting lyrics “Bite chunks out of me/ You’re a shark and I’m swimming.” Playing intricate guitar riffs while belting the song’s complex melodies, Newman’s musical prowess was put on full display.
Similarly enchanting was the performance of “Matilda.” The screens surrounding the band temporarily raised, allowing the audience to feel deeply connected to the musicians while they played the emotive tune. As the crowd sang along, Newman eventually stopped singing, and the voices of thousands filled the room with belts of “This is from Matilda.” In this magical moment, the impact of alt-J’s music on listeners was unmistakably clear, exemplifying the unimaginable heights the band has reached over the years.
From “Dissolve Me” to “Fitzpleasure,” the night paired tearful moments with danceable bops. As alt-J exited the stage, the Ukrainian flag projected onto the screen, foreshadowing the upcoming political encore. Returning to the stage soon after, the band shared a moment of solidarity with Ukraine, with Hamilton screaming into the microphone “F— Putin!”
Immediately after, the upbeat intro of “Left Hand Free” sent a wave of energy through the audience, and later, the similarly gritty “Hard Drive Gold” geared everyone up for the show’s finale. Concluding the set with the iconic “Breezeblocks,” alt-J made it nearly impossible for fans not to reminisce about the mid-2010s alternative scene. An undeniable high point of the night, the band’s modern rendition of its most popular track was the perfect send-off to the electrifying set.
Visually and sonically stunning, the concert captivated as cerebral and unique. From An Awesome Wave to The Dream, the band’s decade-spanning career shined throughout the setlist, leaving fans nostalgic for the band’s past and ecstatic for its future. alt-J is synonymous with outstanding musical talent and exquisite creative vision, and the band’s San Francisco performance only further cemented its legacy.