Gig Review: Alt-J at the SSE Hydro


In three years, with only two albums under their belt, alternative-rock band Alt-J have worked their way up from the Art School to Scotland’s biggest indoor venue, the Hydro.

There was perhaps doubt that such an eccentric band (with lyrics like “turn you inside out and lick you like a crisp packet” in ‘Every Other Freckle’) could hold their own at such a massive venue. However, doubters were proved entirely wrong.

Before Alt-J took to the stage, superb supports Ghostpoet and The Horrors whetted the crowd’s appetites. All bands/artists that took to the stage have been nominated for the Mercury Prize, and even opening act Ghostpoet was watched by an impressive number. His unique sound translated well to the big stage, most noticeably on tracks from his latest album that leaned more towards guitar music than earlier work.

He took advantage of the impressive light show to help him, but not as much as The Horrors. Frontman Faris Badwan even commented that he hoped everyone brought sunglasses for the blindingly bright lights. The rock band’s short set boasted hits from the last six years of their catalogue, the highlight being the epic ‘Sea Within a Sea’ with the grand feel of the synths matched by the brilliant light show.

Alt J photo 2Both supports were outdone in terms of the lights though, with Alt-J pulling out the big guns for their set. First song, ‘Intro’ (from This is All Yours), projected the shadows of the trio into the adoring crowd as they showed off their harmonies. These eerie harmonies provided the first freaky moment for the arena gig.

Check out our interview with Alt-J keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton 


It’s strange to see a band play music as weird (and wonderful) as this, with what sounds like a mandolin heard after only three minutes, in such a big venue. Yet the mostly young crowd lapped it up, although ‘Every Other Freckle’ which followed drew a bigger reaction and boasted the best light show of the night so far. More melodic and easier to sing and dance to, it really got the crowd going.

Alt J photo 4The band kept the hits coming, with big singles ‘Something Good’ and ‘Left Hand Free’ following. The latter in particular sent the audience into a frenzy, despite the band saying the song only took 20 minutes to write, it is a superb pop song that rubbed the right way with the crowd.

‘Matilda’, from first album An Awesome Wave, almost halfway through the set provided a tender moment that allowed the audience to sing along. ‘Tessellate’, also from album number one, is another strange song to hear at such a massive gig, a song the band say is about maths and sex (tessellating is when things fit together). However, it’s another song that proves the band can try their hand at anything, with a hip-hop feel to the beats.

A peculiar song for Alt-J to cover, the band performed Bill Wither’s ‘Lovely Day’. A bonus track on This is All Yours, it was stripped down to mostly frontman Joe Newman and his guitar with sporadic keyboard and drum sounds to create a unique and spooky version of the classic soul song.

Alt-J’s weird and wonderful sound with samples from a variety of instruments, and even Miley Cyrus on ‘Hunger of the Pine’, translated so well to such a big stage with fans desperate for more by the end. The band ended on ‘Breezeblocks’, which perhaps had the biggest reaction of the night. They fittingly sang to the crowd “please don’t go, I love you so” as the crowd bellowed it back, showing Alt-J to be a band that have had no trouble adapting to arena venues.

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