Alt-J – Westpoint Arena, Exeter, 02/12/15

I feel like I know a fairly decent amount about cults. Blindly following one leader, a shared ideology, matching outfits, general wailing and synchronised gyration and whatnot. Based on all this then, I think I can safely say that last night, I took part in a cult meeting.

While Hot Fuzz might have convinced people that we country folk are actually rather fond of our occult and cultish rendezvous and while yes, there was a shed outside the venue signposted ‘Sheep Shearing’, it wasn’t actually a case of slathering each other in manure and speaking in tongues. Instead, it was Alt-J.

Returning for their first gig in the area in years and supported by the relentlessly cool Ghostpoet and the contrastingly bounding antics of The Horrors, to say that there was anticipation in the air is an understatement. Disciples had gathered from far and wide, feasted upon the fine farm foods on offer and supped on the sweet nectar provided by miserable looking VK salesmen, and The Horrors had finished with a blinding blitzkrieg of alt rock. Now then, for the grand priests.

There’s nothing quite like the nervous tension before the main act, when the silences between the filler songs make everyone shut up and turn to the stage only to be disappointed time and time again. That is until the smoke machine starts spewing and shadowy figures descend through the mist, leading the congregation into mass hysteria. I honestly think that a good amount of the ringing in my ears afterwards was mostly due to that opening cacophany. But like all good followers, with the opening notes of the apt ‘Intro’ from the deliciously weird This Is All Yours, the crowd fell into abrupt and enraptured silence. If you want a notion of what we looked like, picture a huge pack of really well trained dogs all sitting at a silent whistle and you’re on the right track. Should you for some unforgivable reason not know which song I mean, know that it is possibly the most demurely named masterpiece created in mainstream music. Seguing from unearthly harmonies to distant wails and earth shattering percussion, it’s less a song, more an experience. What made it though was, again, the anticipation. Everyone had come to this strange arena in the middle of a field to be at one with kindred spirits, and never has it been more palpable that every single person there knew every note, key change and harmony of each song. So when the drop hit in ‘Intro’, we all dropped as one, and screamed in appropriate synchonicity afterwards.

Somehow, impossibly, this passion just grew and grew as the show went on. The crowd were uncontrollable as ‘Every Other Freckle’ took something of a reggae turn in the instrumental, ‘Hunger Of The Pine’ was communal catharsis as everyone screamed to the heavens and ‘Fitzpleasure’ felt like the crowd were teetering on the edge of an orgy, so intense was the grinding (much to the apparent displeasure of the seventy-odd year old lady in front). One of the main highlights though has to be the stark performance of An Awesome Wave’s ‘(Interlude 1)’. With only white back lighting, Alt-J brought only their voices to the podium as we responded in kind. Again, if you don’t know the song, know that it is an almost nonsensical vocal ramble which you feel inappropriate singing without percussive hand gestures and preferably a stone altar and a solstice. It’s not an easy thing to learn yet seemingly without fail, everyone there knew every single twist and obediently recited to teacher. I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve ever been more contentedly involved in a shared moment with thousands of sweaty strangers.

Through the obligatory ‘we’re going now byyyyeeee…. nah just messing, we’ve got three more songs to play’ to the closing bars of the cacophonous’Taro’ and ‘Bloodflood’, the unspoken agreement of enthusiasm between performer and performed-to reached levels of ecstasy I have never seen before and honestly, don’t know that I will again. As the four-piece came together in an astounded and beaming hug to wave the crowd goodbye, my sister looked at me with glinting eyes and said ‘I’ve never been happier’. I totally get why. Bravo grand-maesters, consider me indoctrinated.

 

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