It was a long-awaited, cold, November night when I walked into the Coca-Cola Roxy. This was my second time attending this venue, after seeing The xx a few weeks prior. I remember thinking that the sound quality was one of the best I had heard in Atlanta, and I was anxious to return for top-notch acoustics and the night's headliner, Alt-J. Ever since feasting my ears on "Hunger of the Pine" from their 2014 album This Is All Yours, I had been seeking an opportunity to see them, and the Roxy opened those doors to me.
Opening for the trio was duo Marian Hill. Alongside permanent members vocalist Samantha Gongol and production artist Jeremy Lloyd, there was a third member, Steve Davit, on the stage, and he brought the thing every live-music lover dreams of - a saxophone. With the duo's songs largely consisting of lyrics about love and lust, it's no wonder the sax complimented them so well. With Samantha's smooth, soprano voice, Jeremy's thumping bass emanating from his drum pad and Steve's silky sax notes, it was quite the seductive opening and kept me interested, but not quite forgetting about who I came to see.
As the lights come on and the Alt-J crew got to work preparing the stage, I noticed that the crowd was far different than my recent encounter with the teenies and their parents at Imagine Dragons (Read our review of that show here). Unlike the generally tame crowd from the night before, this crowd consisted mostly of drunk 20-somethings. Because of this, I decided to relinquish my spot near the front of the stage in favor of a spot near the back of the spacious floor where I would be protected from alcohol being poured all over me.
There were a few other patrons with the same idea, as we sought our quiet, roomy area in the back, but the nice thing about the Roxy is the back of the large floor actually lends a better view of the stage and lighting. The view, along with such great acoustics, means you lose no details in the sound or visuals by being farther away.
Once the stage setup was completed, I was able to make out a simple setup that placed the trio side-by-side with only thin lighting pillars separating the band members. Stage left was drummer Thom Green, beside him was guitarist and vocalist Joe Newman and stage right was keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton. Simple was the theme of the night, but I mean this in the best way. When you listen to this group, their layering of high, sorrowful vocals with delicate keys and sonorous drums brings together a unique sound. Their performance did not include a spectacular light show or a saturation of lasers, but they didn't need it. With layers of sounds intricately combined, sometimes soft and other times bold, an elaborate light show would have only distracted the audience from the feast of sounds being served.
Almost half of their set came from their debut album, An Awesome Wave, a choice I heard many patrons exclaim excitement about. Back in my safe zone with the sober and stoners (or just non-Buckhead Betties), we stood with our eyes closed, soaking in the music.
At one point, I struck up a conversation with a fellow patron and managed to grab a shot of the band's setlist from his phone. Though I was glad to capture this little treat, I felt no need for the list tonight. My new friend and I both exclaimed half way into the show, "They are playing all their best songs!" But come to think of it, I have yet to hear an Alt-J song that I couldn't get lost in. Listening to them that cold night at the Roxy was like being served a hot bowl of your favorite comfort food in your grandma's rocking chair.
Photos by Sidney Spear for Bullet Music.