Review: Alt-J live at the 3 Arena

It went from the Point, to the O2 and now it’s the 3 Arena. Whatever you call it, you’d have to agree on the fact that this vibrant stonewalled venue is a beauty. The sound quality is up there with the best venues around the world and you can’t beat it in terms of atmosphere.

Wearing its new branded signage like a badge of honour, the 3 Arena was lit up and glowing, a perfect contrast against the dark murky waters of the river Liffey flowing alongside it. Thousands of people queued outside, waiting to hear what the 2012 mercury prize-winning band Alt -J had to offer. This time the crowd was much younger than those who had come to see them play in the Olympia 15 months previously, perhaps a sign that they were becoming more mainstream, or maybe an indication that their music was building momentum, either way it was a near full house.

Heading towards 9 P.M., with the atmosphere slowly building inside, in a bold move, the band began to play the opening to “Hunger of the Pine”, the first release from their new, lesser-known album, This Is All Yours and the crowd ate it up. They played the first bar, over and over; letting those who were lucky enough to bag standing tickets, surge towards the stage.

Then it was show time. Smoke billowed up and out from the stage and white, red and blue lighting illuminated the foursome from behind, making them seem like mythical, lyrical geniuses. By the time the Miley Cyrus sample vibrated out of the giant speakers, all hands were waving in the air and the crowd sang back “I’m a female rebel” to the band, both in perfect sync with each other. Suddenly what seemed like a 10,000 strong crowd felt like 200 and the gig felt huge and intimate all at the same time. Not an easy thing to accomplish, but it comes across as if this band have always known exactly what they were doing.

Stopping after the first song to say hello, lead singer Joe Newman told ticket buyers how blown away the band were by the sheer size of the venue. Always a nice touch but you could tell they really meant it. Without missing a beat and surfing the atmosphere that had built during the first song, they lashed straight into “Fitzpleasure”. Queue the wild dancing and stomping of the feet. “Left Hand Free” another single from the second album was again, received with loud shouts of appreciation. The catchy chorus was belted out by the crowd and at this stage it seemed like a pretty perfect sweaty alternative gig.

Things got a bit maudlin when “Matilda” came on, phones lit up around the arena and Newman sat back and let the crowd serenade him for the first verse. A beautiful moment for a beautiful song, it was all very fitting. The gig continued to meander through old material and new. Songs like “Bloodflood” were followed by “Bloodflood Pt. 2”, “Warm Foothills” came after “Taro”. But there was nothing thrilling about this set list by the later stages of the gig. It all seemed slightly too easy, and the band began to loose the attention of some in the crowd.

They pulled it back for the encore; a cover of the Bill Withers hit “Lovely Day” grabbed their attention again. A guy in the crowd could be heard saying, “Jaysus I need a piss but the minute I start to go I just know I’ll miss ‘Breezeblocks’”. He was right. Less than a minute later, all lights flashing, every person in the crowd was shouting out the words to “Breezeblocks” while Alt-J played their hearts out, big grins on their faces, bigger sounds coming from the speakers.

The genius of Alt-J lives on. As good live as they are playing in your ears through your music player’s headphones. They were earmarked as the ones to watch a little over three years ago. It remains to be seen where they go from here. But one thing is certain – they’re moving in the right direction.

Alison Healy

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