We saw Alt-J in Munich

Words by Steve Burnside

It’s hard to tell if Australia can’t get enough of Alt-J, or if Alt-J can’t get enough of Australia (I get the feeling frontman Joe Newman’s Aussie girlfriend may have something to do with this.) But whatever it is, the English indie rockers seem to have been down under a lot lately. Shortly after the release of sophomore album This is All Yours, they played two dates in Sydney and Melbourne, returning over New Years to take in Falls and Southbound and this coming May the boys from Cambridge are back for a victory lap around the major cities. The five date tour promises to be their biggest yet, hitting some of the largest arenas in the country, complete with support act Asgier (whose track King and Cross came in at #10 in last month’s Hottest 100) in tow.

Even after playing some of the biggest festival stages in the country, graduating to an arena headline show can be quite a task. After all, a supersized venue needs a supersized show, so Alt-J fans will be asking themselves how the band plan to up their game for the big league.

Luckily, as Howl & Echoes’ European correspondent, I was on hand last Tuesday to catch Alt-J on the Munich leg of their current tour of the continent, playing to a sold out crowd at Munich’s 6000-capacity Zenith Kulturhalle.

Unfortunately (at first) the new tracks seemed a little flat in such a large environment, and opening song Hunger of the Pine felt particularly weak. Also surprisingly lacking in energy was Left Hand Free (if there was an Alt-J song you’d expect to be stadium-rock ready, it’s this.) Not to say that there was anything necessarily bad about the way the set started, but the initial performances just felt undersized in front of such a large audience. The energy picked up throughout, however, helped along by crowd favourites off An Awesome Wave such as Fitzpleasure, Tessellate and Taro. Later in the set the newer material started to deliver, with an enthusiastic crowd sing-along to Every Other Freckle, and the energy hit peak levels during set-closer The Gospel of John Hurt.

The encore was perfectly constructed, with the Nara triptych (Arrival in Nara, Nara and Leaving Nara) played together as one piece, followed by Breezeblocks, which prompted another crowd sing-along of epic proportions. All in all, the gig was so well capped off it left me wondering whether I was watching the same band that had opened the set, and by the encore Alt-J had left me with no question of whether they can bring it to the big stages when they head down under in May.

For those of you who can’t wait until May, earlier this month the band streamed their full performance at La Chapelle des Beaux Arts de Paris, which you can still see here. The setlist is very similar to their Munich show, and the venue has to be just about the coolest place I have seen anyone play. Ever.

Alt-J Australian Tour dates (May 2015):

May 5: Riverstage – Brisbane Botanic Gardens, Brisbane
May 9: Quantas Credit Union Arena, Sydney
May 10: Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne
May 13: Entertainment Centre, Adelaide
May 15: HBF Stadium, Perth

Click here for tickets and tour information.