Saturday, 3 November 2012

Live Review: The Maccabees and Alt-J @ LSO St Lukes

 Ahead of the Mercury Prize Awards Ceremony on November 1st, The Maccabees and Alt-J took to orchestral venue LSO St Lukes in Islington to showcase songs from their nominated albums. Tickets were awarded on a ballot-only basis, and the 500-capacity crowd turned up long before opener Alt-J’s set.

Bringing their unexpectedly popular brand of geeky-computer-electro-pop (or something along those lines) to the church setting, the band looked perfectly at ease with their newfound fervent fan base. Admissions of love and adoration from fans at the very front were met with relatively awkward thanks, probably due to the fact that the culprits were about 5 metres away from the band. Their 11-song set, comprised entirely of their debut album An Awesome Wave, perfectly showcased what brought Alt-J to the attention of the Mercury bigwigs, with their intricate, bizarrely manipulated beats contrasting with Joe’s sharp, booming vocals and the band’s sporadic harmonies. The band’s stoicism can be distracting at times, with only occasional movements from lead singer Joe, and can make it seem as if the band aren’t enjoying themselves, however mid-way through the set we’re assured it’s because they’re “concentrating.” Either way, the crowd don’t seem too bothered, as proven by their explosive reactions to the start of “Dissolve Me” and “Breezeblocks”, which are only emphasised in such a quiet, serene environment. Finishing their set on “Taro”, the band leave the stage to a huge applause, seeming genuinely humbled by the crowd response.
 Then it was time for The Maccabees. Since the release of third album “Given to the Wild”, the five-piece have headlined the legendary Alexandra Palace in London, commonly acknowledged as the one-step-below-arena venue (as proven by previous headliners Florence and the Machine and The Vaccines, both set to play the 02 Arena in upcoming tours.) Having played such enormous venues on their last tour, it’s a bit of a change of pace for the band to be playing such an intimate, quiet setting. Instead of forcing their arena-ready third album tracks to translate into such a small capacity, the band choose to play a selection of old and new tracks, including old fan-favourites such as “William Powers” and “Wall of Arms”. Despite the Mercury nod awarded to “Given to the Wild”, it’s the second album tracks that draw the biggest response from the crowd, most of whom seem more familiar with the old material. It seems a shame that the new tracks go somewhat unappreciated, especially as they take on such a new dimension when performed live, and really prove that their latest effort is deserving of the Mercury nod, potentially even the prize itself. Finally, the crowd respond to set-closer “Grew up at Midnight” and a poor fan at the barrier, who had been there since midday, burst into tears at the end. I’m not sure it was the Maccabees strongest performance, or their most exciting set-list, but the new material really solidifies them as a band that can play venues nearly 50 times this size.

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