The Big Four Roadhouse
October 17, 2017
Photos courtesy of J. Dirom Photography
I was working an event back in 2013 on 17th Ave at the old Republik. You remember that place? Maybe one of the dirtiest, grungiest clubs in the city but that was just how their clients liked it. No windows, dimly lit and a wall of sweat hitting your nostrils as you walk into the basement that they called a club. I was watching K-os perform that night and in between sets I struck up a conversation with a fellow groupie. Somehow, we got onto the topic of the best live performance we’ve ever experienced. He said alt-J. That was the first time I’d heard of ‘em, so I promptly said, “who the fuck is that.”
Since then I still know very little about the band aside from the fact that I enjoy their stuff. So, when I walked into the Big Four building I was a little giddy, not entirely sure what to expect. The lights dimmed down and Joe Newman, Gus Unger-Hamilton and Thom Green walked into their space. The stage divided into three symmetrical squares lined up perfectly with light towers surrounding each of them. To each side and to their backs. They started with “3WW.” A song that didn’t have much actual singing, but each time a word left their lips, a light would shine up from below, like a flashlight to someone sharing a scary story at the campfire, or a shining halo as an angel shared life advice.
Transition to “Interlude 1” (Ripe & Ruin) to create the perfect segway into “Tesselate,” and the crowd erupted. The show continued seamlessly as the band didn’t speak anything other than thank you until they finished “Matilda,” their ninth song in the set. At that point they stopped and Unger-Hamilton said “we appreciate you for coming to our show, thank you so much Calgary.” That was it. In that moment I learned they were from the UK and also probably didn’t speak very much English. Not that it mattered. As the gentleman and his two suitors in front of me took a break from literally “dabbing” and laughing, I overheard them say “I think this is my new favourite song.”
“Taro.” The way I always describe this song is it sounds almost East Indian, and I love it. In the matter of a Tra-la-la, the set was over. The band walked off stage and in a tremendous uproar from the crowd, returned to perform arguably their two biggest hits, “Breezeblocks” and “Left Hand Free.” Like that the concert was over. In a smooth hour and a half the show tackled 19 songs and my feet and shoulders didn’t stop moving the entire time. It was easily one of the grooviest and danceable shows I’ve been to, although in a very subtle manner.
alt-J took no breaks, said very little and proved to me that good music can transcend demographics. In the Trump era, where demographics seem to be the forefront of a lot of societal issues, Alt-J broke down the barrier. Teenagers, hippies, ravers and seniors. It was spiritual but in simple terms, it was fun. They will continue touring for a substantial time and into the new year on the heels of their new album Relaxer. Do yourself a favour. Check it out. Buy a ticket and…relax.