Review – alt-J Allowed the Music to Speak For Itself at The Fillmore

The arrival of English band alt-J at the Fillmore Auditorium was inspiring indeed. After quickly selling out their first night, a second show was added to ensure that the legions of local fans could get a taste of the group from Leeds and their extraordinarily hard-to-pin-down sound. Joined by an equally enigmatic opener, NomBe, Sunday night’s show proved to be a wildly varied exploration of many of the sounds that have come to define modern indie-rock. While NomBe’s approach leaned much closer to R&B, alt-J filtered a wide range of genres through their distinct psychedelic lens.

Each group left a very different impression, though the dramatic difference in tone and flavor actually brightened each of their individualities. While some of alt-J’s ambient tracks left some in the audience a bit underwhelmed, other’s reveled in it. “It changes the beauty you see in the world,” said an audience member, moved by the music’s apparent power to redefine entire worldviews.

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Opening the show promptly at 8 p.m. NomBe took the stage with great charisma and an enormously physical performance style. Frontman Noah McBeth paced to-and-fro with enormous energy — joining frenetic dancing with literally falling to the stage at a moment of great emotion. Playing tracks from his passionate debut They Might’ve Even Loved Me, NomBe explored the varied relationships he’s had with the women who have shaped him as a man and as an artist.

As the godson of funk and R&B legend Chaka Khan, NomBe has all the trappings of someone long-steeped in the music industry. However, his music is highly original. Drawing comparisons between him and his godmother would be difficult, though her mentorship could easily account for his confidence and natural abilities as a performer. His 45-minute set left the audience craving more. Fortunately, he will be back on April 21 at the Marquis Theater with Mikky Ekko and Mansionair.

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alt-J’s performance was incredibly diverse. Many in the audience compared them to Icelandic post-rock group Sigur Rós, and during their more ambient moments, the resemblance was hard to miss. Some of their music decidedly felt more dance-oriented — heavy synthesized bass and choppy drums always hyped the audience up. The only trouble was that the set-list lacked much of a discernible order. The incongruous juxtaposition of slower material with their heavier stuff left the set emotionally wishy-washy. While the music sounded unarguably gorgeous and highly original, the overall journey felt scattered.

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The English trio let the music do all the talking, addressing the audience only a single time. “I see you Denver,” said guitarist Joe Newman. The performers’ identities obviously evaded the central focus — the art remained the all-encompassing centerpiece. The group played many tracks from their 2017 album Relaxer, with sprinklings from their earlier work tossed in for good measure. Their varied nature revealed itself as both their greatest strength and their greatest weakness. The band’s ability to overlap a range of dissimilar styles and make them sound consistent was impressive.

Ultimately, the many contradictions manifested themselves in the audience’s response. People were either deeply moved and elated or quite unimpressed — the music was in no way middling. By every indication that is the point. Take it or leave it, alt-J will continue to do things their way. And for those who truly get it, this unapologetic approach is exactly what the people need.

All Photography by Ryan Good.

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