Alt-J were back in town Tuesday night at Salle Wilfred Pelletier as part of the 2019 Jazz Fest and despite my efforts to dress formally I couldn’t help but feel a little out of place in that unapologetically swanky hall. Ok, fine. I made zero effort to dress formally; that was a lie (Maury Povich voice). The swanky venue also comes with some fabulous fucking sound and though the floor is seating room only, everyone stood for the entirety of Alt-J’s set, making me feel slightly more comfortable.
Drama from Chicago, IL opened this classy affair to an already abundant and exuberant crowd. The duo of vocalist Via Rosa and DJ Na’el Shehade mix R&B and dance music with an up-tempo groove that brings to mind some notable names for the trip-hop trend in the ‘90s, such as Sade or Neneh Cherry. Shehade built up pulsating, hypnotic rhythms as Rosa captivated the crowd with her radiant vocals and casual but confident stage presence. It is a daunting task for two people to command a stage that large, but Rosa and Shehade made it look easy, cruising through their set like a Sunday stroll in the park. Some notable high moments were the tracks “Billy” and the recently released “Give No Fucks,” both of which ride high on the interplay of danceable back beats and low-key, super-chill melodies. Drama are like the perfect soundtrack for a casual comedown after a hard night of clubbing.
If you saw Alt-J at Place Bell in late 2017, then you were in for a similar treatment this time around. They used the same lighting rig and effects, though it is such a fucking cool setup that they can get away with a second presentation in my books. It’s like watching a band perform in the Matrix or, if you’d like a more current reference, a band performing inside an episode of Black Mirror. Alt-J performed an expansive set, focusing equally on all three of their masterful albums. The vocal harmonies of guitarist Joe Newman and keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton were spot on, as per usual, as were the intricate and off-kilter drum patterns of Thom Greene. If I’m being real, it would have been nice to hear a couple of new songs, unreleased songs…maybe they don’t have any? I dunno, it just felt eerily similar to the show at Place Bell a year and a half ago. But Alt-J are one of those bands who always switch up the tone and dynamics of their songs live, so even though it was a similar set, it didn’t feel like a complete re-hash. It also allowed for me to bask in some of the deeper cuts— songs I may have overlooked or underappreciated the first three times I saw Alt-J. “Hunger Of The Pine” was absolute fire, and truly felt like one of the high points of the set; same for “The Gospel of John Hurt” and “Deadcrush;” it reaffirmed that this band really doesn’t have a bad song in their catalogue. To me, they’re the next Radiohead. Will they reach the same heights as Radiohead? Well, it’s a tall order, but I see no reason why they can’t make it happen. Tuesday reaffirmed that.
Written by Lee Ferguson
Photography by Marc-Antoine Morin
*edited by Chris Aitkens