After an almost flawless and captivating hour-long set Monday night at the 9:30 Club, British quartet Alt-J remain as compelling and mysterious as they were before they took the stage. With a brief but friendly acknowledgement to the audience, who responded with a roar, the band began on the sparse, elegant stage with the lead song, "Intro" from their debut album An Awesome Wave. It was followed by "Interlude (Ripe & Ruin)," which they performed, as on the album, almost entirely a capella.
With few exceptions, the setlist followed the album track list -- the high lonesome vocals from “Interlude” transitioned quickly into the sexy bass line and huskier vocals of "Tessellate,” and the adoring audience reacted by shifting from a gentle undulation to a less subtle grind. Just as the crowd found the rhythm of that track, the band skipped “Breezeblocks,” reserving it for later, and launched into "Something Good." The live setting emphasized the slightly western feeling of the song, with a spare tap of a snare drum leading in a galloping guitar and a waterfall of keyboards.
The transition from "Something Good" to "Dissolve Me" emphasized the range of musical influences of the band. While the first evokes the mysteries of a Western plains night, the second adds a steel drum effect, giving the sound a Caribbean or African accent. The adjustment of tempo roused the audience to a certain degree, as the sea of bodies in the packed house shifted from gentle waves to an all-out celebratory shimmy by the time the final synth dropped in Dissolve.
When the first "Tra-la-la"s of "Fitzpleasure" rang out the crowd roared its approval, but it was the bass line, sending reverberations through the building and through the crowd, that had an even bigger impact. The loudest recognition of the evening came for "Matilda," which despite being introduced as "a little quieter" caused a sing-along outbreak that filled the 9:30 Club with waving arms and united voices.