Alt-J’s rise to popularity seems meteoritic, with no upper limit if their gig on Sunday night is anything to go by. As soon as I arrive the buzz inside Leeds’ shiny new First Direct Arena is palpable, the crowd of mostly young people and university students itching for the band to come on stage. Support acts Ghostpoet and The Horrors keep the crowd entertained for a while, but the anticipation for Alt-J is almost too overwhelming, and The Horrors frontman throws in a comment; “Thanks for watching, although you have to unless you want to stand outside”. Mercury nominated Ghostpoet’s set, with his talk style vocals, was stunning but perhaps a bit too left-field for the Alt-J crowd, and The Horrors put on a bombastic show, but by that point the crowd were growing impatient.
When they finally take to the stage amongst thundering applause, the band launch straight into eerie acapella ‘Intro’ from This is All Yours, which melts into the textured ‘Every Other Freckle’ which immediately gets a round of raucous applause. The atmosphere feels less like a gig and more like a festival as Alt J spin through their catalogue. Not one song in their whole set falls flat, not even their staple, but very creative reimagining of Bill Wither’s ‘Lovely Day’. Much has been said of Alt-J doing an arena tour – are they big enough? Popular enough? They seem like unlikely arena material, with their touches of Bollywood influence and often bizarre lyrics, but if their headline set at Latitude festival didn’t convince the critics, their Leeds gig is enough put any doubts to rest. Alt-J dominate the space totally, and the fancy revolving light displays the venue can afford them creates a suitably dramatic backdrop to their well polished songs, adding just that little bit extra entertainment value. Standing almost uniformly in a line on the stage, the energy they pulsate is almost subtle, and the crowd do all the moving for them. Fan favourites like ‘Dissolve Me’ and ‘Tessellate’ get the biggest reactions and the most hands up in the air until the encore and ‘Breezeblocks’ knocks everything out of the water.
The band seems genuinely grateful and pleased with their reception, especially as they consider Leeds their ‘hometown’. The band were formed during their years at Leeds University, and when they mention it to the crowd, small grins on their faces, they’re met with enthusiastic cheers full of pride. It seems we are witnessing their rise and continued rise. The head of Reading & Leeds festival has them pegged for future Glastonbury headliners, and after Sunday, I wouldn’t say he was wrong.