Gig review: Alt-J at Leeds Town Hall

'Cheers Leeds. How are we doing this evening?' Alt-J keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton questions a sell-out crowd cheerfully following the endearingly breezy frug of Dissolve Me a handful of songs in. 'It's good to be home.'


Indeed it is for the Mercury Prize-winning art-rock triumvirate; their belated return to their West Yorkshire roots comes just shy of three years since they last stepped foot in the city for a show.

Having sold out nearly every venue it has to offer too they’ve commandeered the Grade I-listed Town Hall for this celebratory shindig, part of a brief run of cheekily self-proclaimed ‘victory lap’ shows to cap off the year.

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Nominally touring behind hip-hop remix album Reduxer, a do-over of their third studio record Relaxer, the band instead stick to the tried-and-tested, interloping only the odd pre-recorded verse into proceedings on occasion. As such, this performance is a hits affair; all but one of their singles is trotted out, starting with Something Good’s skittery art-folk, while half of the set is culled from 2012’s debut An Awesome Wave.

In such austere surroundings, it feels like an event performance; an expressive pause to recount and take stock of their career so far, leaving no stone unturned.

The group has long been noted for their highbrow mastery of the sonic ebb and flow on record, but their beefier approach here mostly eschews delicate sensibilities for heftier physical weight.

Every Other Freckle hangs low, its swivel-hipped funk given extra snarl; Bloodflood’s wintery electronica hums with a post-rock gloss. Hunger of the Pine is unexpectedly more muted in comparison; deployed amid a vertical lighting rig of free-standing lighting strips that conjure the imagery of fiery jellyfish coils, it is still no less intoxicating.

If the trio do become somewhat unmoored throughout the second half, following the pastoral beauty of 3WW and the gentle call-and-response of Matilda, it at least is keeping in line with their dreamier aesthetics. The Gospel of John Hurt’s insistent niggle flits between dreamy states of consciousness while Adeline’s twilight aural massage never quite writhes ascendant the way it should.

But the band jolt back into action come the encore with the incongruously louche southern grooves of Left Hand Free and the horn-flecked slow bombast of In Cold Blood.

They sign off with their insidiously theatrical breakthrough Breezeblocks; a last reminder of their skill in deftly blending the mundane and mysterious into a moodier beast.