Samsung Canada knows how to party. To welcome the release of the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge, the tech giant hosted a fun night at the Sound Academy for invited guests to preview the devices. While we weren’t given free phones to take home, Samsung did win over our musical hearts by playing host to a free concert. They used their clout (and no doubt rather sizeable budget) to wrangle in one of the biggest names in indie rock right now: England’s alt-J.
Ahead of their Friday night set at Coachella and before they headline the inaugural WayHome festival this summer, the four-piece returned to Toronto to give the night some extra out-of-this-world sparkle.
Now it seems kind of unfair to judge them on their musical offerings from Thursday night. It was, after all, a corporate gig that likely earned them a nice chunk of change for a very minimal effort and a very slight tour reroute. Still though, it was blatantly obvious they were (pardon the pun) phoning it in. The 10-song set left much to be desired – and much to be worried about if you’re counting on an energetic stage presence for their upcoming festival spots.
I’ve made note of this in the past: as far as live performances go, alt-J’s lives and dies in their audience reception. If they crowd is into it, they respond in kind. Their mechanical demeanour and stage presence is far less noticeable when everyone else is cheering and singing along. Without it, it’s a little cold. It also seems especially not worth paying attention to if the band itself seems less than concerned about what they’re doing on stage – so much of their musical heft is reliant on its layered constructions and attention to detail.
Playing songs from both their 2012 An Awesome Wave debut and 2014’s This Is All Yours, alt-J were pretty resigned to going through the half-asleep motions. “Every Other Freckle” was a highlight in a set otherwise void of redeeming qualities – at least speaking to their ability to write a well-constructed song. Vocalist/guitarist Joe Newman and keyboardist/vocalist Gus Unger-Hamilton played well with harmonies and drummer Thom Green should be commended for his efforts on the number.
Outside of that, though, it was subdued and casual. It’s not a bad thing – all bands deserve a break – but it certainly confirmed something I’ve long maintained: alt-J isn’t all that interesting live, regardless of the price or occasion. Now to just hope that the WayHome crowd is more into alt-J than the tech one apparently is.