Much like an allusive dream, every part of alt-J’s Milwaukee stop on The Dream Tour at Turner Hall Ballroom on Friday night contained elements of being in a dream. Even before the show’s inception, it had already shifted from a different time and location. The original venue was supposed to be at UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena a day earlier on Thursday. The details of why are a mystery, announced as “unforeseen logistical issues.” The shift to a just shy of a 1,000-person capacity Turner Hall Ballroom gave way to a cage-free alt-J stripped of their glass box and projections (a staple on this arena tour run) making this not only the smallest venue they’re playing on this tour, but also the smallest they’ve ever played in Milwaukee. The slacked six strings of Edison lights that hung above the main floor highlighted and served as a continual aid and reminder of the unique experience of seeing alt-J in this rare and intimate space.
The show begins with a techno groove with a recurring, “Here we go!” reminiscent of Super Mario Bros., making the experience a dreamlike experience from the get-go. Enter the trio and they go straight into the opening track “Bane” off of their new album The Dream, which is sort of like a trio in and of itself, with three distinct parts that are all different within the one song. The sound of a cola can fizzling and cracking open followed by the commercial-like voice proclaiming, “Cold and sizzling!” before a sip and echoing exhale lends to the surreal dreamscape alt-J has already begun to well establish. The first change brought on by lead vocals and guitar Joe Newman’s sweeping notes that descend and melt into its part two gives a feeling of sinking, the warbling vocals and guitar reminiscent of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun.”
The final third of “Bane” circles in repetition and establishes itself with the ushering in of the percussion of drummer Thom Sonny Green.
New track “Chicago” filled the sold-out small and intimate venue to the brim, the bass served by keyboardist and vocals Gus Unger-Hamilton permeating every molecule of the room, practically making the walls exhale and bend outwards. The effects of this new track was made ever effective enveloped between familiar debut album tracks “Matilda” and “Something Good,” the latter of which was perfectly placed at the very center of the deliciously balanced sandwich of the evening’s set.
The majority of the time, the band kept the music flowing, lending to a mostly uninterrupted haze of dreaming. Only on occasion would the dream become lucid when they would address the audience to speak or say thank you. For anyone with lingering lucidity, the carnival-like sounds of “Dissolve Me” matching the accustomed-to string lights from above surely sent those dreamers back into the depths of the dream.
As cool as this tour run’s setup is, the dreamlike state of all the aforementioned components of the Milwaukee stop really did make for a rare treat. As with most good dreams, they both linger and escape simultaneously; the parts that stay, cherished. It will be much anticipated as Milwaukee waits for alt-J to return and deliver yet another batch of lingering goodies. In the meantime, alt-J’s newest album The Dream is available and can be enjoyed and relished in both physical and digital form.
- Every Other Freckle
- The Actor
- In Cold Blood
- Interlude I (Ripe & Ruin)
- Something Good
- The Gospel of John Hurt
- Dissolve Me
- Losing My Mind
- Left Hand Free
- Hard Drive Gold