Review: alt-J Immersed the Salt Shed With An Awesome Wave
It's hard to believe that it's been just over ten years since alt J (Δ) released their debut album An Awesome Wave. The album has surely stood the test of time, maintaining the freshness it originally held and even improved in recent years. Songs like "Breezeblocks", "Matilda", and "Tesselate" are clearly modern classics. Last week at one of our favorite venues, the Salt Shed, alt J (Δ) brought the audience right back to 2012 by playing An Awesome Wave in its entirety for two sold out nights.
Before the crowd made their trip back in time they were treated by an excellent set from Meagre Martin. After settling a few technical difficulties with the bassist's sound (or rather the lack thereof), the show got off to a fun start. Martin is fresh off her debut album Gut Punch, which was released earlier in November, making the songs on her setlist as fresh as they come. "All My Thoughts" certainly hit the strongest, really encapsulating Martin's sound; a mix of free flowing but driven instrumentation punctuated by her warm and emotive voice.
That time between sets slipped by effortlessly. Usually the crowd's excitement and anticipation made the wait feel all the longer, but something about that night just flowed. So when the lights finally went down it seemed to catch everyone by surprise. A roar erupted through the crowd as Joe Newman, Thom Sonny Green, and Gus Unger-Hamilton emerged and positioned themselves at their stations. The lights began to blink and burst, setting the atmosphere perfectly for An Awesome Wave. As the opening notes of alt J (Δ)'s masterpiece rang out, it was clear this night was going to be special.
Once the "Intro ( An Awesome Wave)" finished the utterly entrancing "❦ (Ripe & Ruin)" an a cappella track that feels as necessary as any track on the album. it's the tender and direct path to the one-two punch of "Tesselate" and "Breezeblocks," two songs that are synonymous with alt J (Δ). Normally these songs would be reserved for a little later in the night, giving the audience some time before they could groove out to their favorite track, because let's be honest, these hold that title for a lot of fans. But since this was a full album play, they kicked off the show much to the crowd's delight.
An Awesome Wave is such a great candidate for a full play concert. Every track hits and hits hard. "Matilda" has Newman's iconic and instantly recognizable cadence at its most unique. "Fitzpleasure" digs deep into a darker territory, both sonically and lyrically. The final few tracks ("Bloodflood", "Taro", and hidden track "Hand-Made") sent the crowd into a completely ethereal realm. After all the jams happening so quickly and early, it was a gentle landing we all were waiting for and let ourselves be engulfed by.
The show thankfully didn't end as soon as that hidden track finished. The Salt Shed was treated to a well curated setlist of non An Awesome Wave tracks. The Dream's "Chicago" felt like an essential track for this two night stint. "U&ME" led perfectly in one of my favorite tracks off of This Is All Yours: "The Gospel of John Hurt". While every one of alt J (Δ)'s albums feels like a completely different era of the band, when presented together they feel like such an interesting and cohesive collage. They capped off their night with "Left Hand Free," a song that began as a maligned song that sounded the least like the band but quickly became one of their most recognizable. Over the years the song has become an integral part of alt J (Δ)'s history and a fitting end of the magical night.
All photos by Julian Ramirez