/ STEALING SHEEP
O2 ACADEMY, OXFORD FRIDAY 2ND, NOVEMBER
Its 8:00pm, and the Oxford audience await Stealing Sheep. The recent release of their hugely impressive debut LP - Into The Diamond Sun, has shown a promising future for the female trio. The album, which is rather unashamedly folk-influenced, meant that they could of left it at just that, rough and edgy. However, their great ears for detail, have resulted in producing something rather special and unique.
Lights dim, spotlights light up the stage. Stealing Sheep dance on, all wearing at least one item completely covered in glitter. The set begins with the LP's first track - The Garden. A light tapping of Lucy on the drums enters, in synch with the sound of Rebecca's keys, then the sudden sound of Emily's haunting guitar, along with her deep bellowing vocals follows. At first it seems that the fans of the greatly anticipated headliners, aren't interested in the 'warm up' act, then halfway through the track, the heavy undertones kick in, instruments gradually become louder, and strangely violent. After the short period of doubt, the crowd begin to embrace the bands quirkiness, becoming fully involved, clapping in time, and echoing the bands lyrics. The cheery but threatening sounds of Circles, almost convinces me that it's summer. On Shut Eye, Rebecca leads the vocals. To begin with, the track has a ghostly feel, almost like someone creeping through an icy-winter forest. Unexpectedly, the song abruptly explodes, like a beautiful, yet aggressive firework, into loud clapping and drum rolls. Then, silence. The crowd seem overwhelmed, by the staggeringly beautiful noises of the LP, until, a sudden uproar of applause and shouts. "Thank you. We hope you enjoy Alt-J." whispers Lucy, as they float off stage.
Fresh from winning the £20,000 Mercury Prize the night before, Alt-J strut onto the stage. The famous triangle symbol of delta glows bright white behind the drum set, coated in the An Awesome Wave album artwork. The band members perform a variety of geek-chic dance moves, not one naked of a grin that resembles more than just love and passion, for not only their music, but their beloved fans. Gwil Sainsbury, the bassist, takes a giant leap for his petit figure onto a wooden block, throwing his arms around like an over-excited child. Then with a sheepish step forward, accidental front man Joe Newman (who wouldn't look out of place in a grubby pub) chuckles into the microphone "you may of heard, we were at the Mercury Awards last night". The dedicated fans of the tight-knitted Alt-J community go crazy. Throwing themselves about, shouting praises of love, and the occasional complimentary joke. It's fair to say that the amount of love in this one room, equates to that you would expect for young pop bands, the likes of One Direction, from swooning adolescent girls. It's truly astonishing. By the way in which Joe and the keyboardist Gus, glance at each other, giggling away, it's clearly obvious that conquering the industry hasn't changed nor phased them one bit.
Alt-J kick-start their concert, with captivating tones of Intro, embarking the audience on a whirlwind journey through the depths of their debut album. The band flow through the sounds of each song, quite literally as if they are riding 'An Awesome Wave'. Ripe & Ruin brings us straight into one of the more known tracks, Tessellate. The smouldering guitar grooves, and tender drum taps, allow Tessellate to imitate an R&B love song. However behind, the affectionate rhythms, lies Alt-J's intellectual roots, as they somehow manage to sneak in perhaps, the nerdiest sexual metaphor known to the music industry "Until morning comes, let's tessellate". The crowd love it, each person singing in time, swaying and wiggling to the music.
Highlights come from future classics such as, Fitzpleasure, centred around Hurbet Selby Jr's character, prostitute Tralala in the 1989 film adaptation of Last Exit To Brooklyn, goes down a complete storm. With striking vocals from Joe, drum beats from Thom, that are the heaviest to be found throughout the whole of An Awesome Wave , result in the crowd violently pushing and shoving, whilst attempting to gracefully ripple their bodies. It's total carnage. Throughout the shivery, miserable sounds of Matilda, there seems to be no dry eyes in the cosy academy. The spine-tingled admirers, all with arms in the air, blub along to the lyrics based around Luc Besson's bitter child star - Matilda, in film Leon. When Gus finishes the final soothing keyboard beats, the audience are silent, seemingly completely stunned. How it is even possible for, four rather plain human beings to even create such incredibly blissful sounds and astonishing lyrics? The sinister shadows lurking beyond Breezeblocks, and its controversial drug-related lyrics, based loosely on the children's book; Where The Wild Things Are, send the irrevocably devoted fans into an absolute frenzy. As Joe cries out the plea "please don't go - I love you so!", their followers roar along, relaying the lyrics to their beloved band, begging them to stay as they finish the song and swagger off stage.
"ALT-J, ALT-J" the crowd screech, clapping, stomping, in desperation to perform a few more songs. An uproar of screams and shouts echo, as two band members shuffle onto the stage. Gus's hands elegantly float over the keys, and Joe's uniquely distinct voice haunts through the bodies of their devotees. As Handmade concludes, Thom and Gwil saunter on, joining their fellow masterminds. Then the ultimate song begins, wispy keyboard melodies rise up. Paying tribute to two of the iconic 20th century war photographers: Robert Capo, and Gerda Taro. The lyrics plus the music of Taro, creates quite possibly one of the most exquisite songs of the year. All the Alt-J supporters surrounding myself, appear to be covered in goose bumps, as I am too. Not one person is standing still, "Hey Taro!" the entire audience yell. Then one by one, each musician fades out. The crowd are cheering so loud, not even the little soundproof arena can contain the calls of love and praise. Standing and waving together, suddendly the lights appear, as Alt-J vanish off stage. All that remains is a small dirty room, full of individuals, drenched in sweat and tears.
2012 has been a phenomenal year for the Leeds born band, and the future looks bright for the quartet. The question is, how much left have they got to give? Well, for now that remains a mystery. As the bands devoted fans trundle out of the building, I glance back into the darkening room. Standing proudly at the back, the triangular shape of a delta symbol glows.