October 30, 2017
Prepare for a surprise when Alt J performs Halloween night at The Fillmore.
“We’ll be doing something for Halloween in Philly, and it’ll be different,” vocalist-keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton said while calling from Columbus.
“Perhaps it’ll be a trick and a treat.”
That’s not surprising since Alt J isn’t quite like any other act. The quirky, nearly unclassifiable British band, which melds folk, dub and trip-hop, takes sonic chances and delivers eclectic material.
“There’s a number of reasons why we don’t sound like other bands,” Unger-Hamilton said.
“We don’t follow trends. We use a lot of space in our songs. Many bands just cram as much noise in as possible. We try to be as creative as we can.”
The members of Alt J didn’t know that their musical potpourri would work until they played their first gig in London a decade ago.
“The crowd was taken aback,” Unger-Hamilton recalled.
“We were only together for three months, and we decided to play out to see what would happen. The audience thought that we would play covers like 'Sweet Home Alabama,'” Unger-Hamilton said. “But we went with the originals, and the reaction was good. We were encouraged, and so we worked hard to get where we are today.”
Alt J, which is named after the Mac command, fine-tuned its baroque sound for three years in the United Kingdom before releasing 2012’s “An Awesome Wave.” The elegant and innovative single “Breezeblocks” established the band in the U.K.
The group, which also includes vocalist-guitarist Joe Newman and drummer Thom Sonny Green, caught on in the U.S. courtesy of its sophomore album, 2014’s “This is All Yours.” The band experienced a rapid rise in the States courtesy of the airplay the rousing “Left Hand Free” and the dreamy “Every Other Freckle” garnered.
Within a year, Alt J went from performing in small clubs to intimate theaters to venues in excess of 3,000 in capacity.
“We didn’t realize what was happening since we were living in a vacuum,” Unger-Hamilton said.
“We just went from show to show. I remember how things went for us in New York. We played the tiny Mercury Lounge to the medium-sized Bowery Ballroom to a big hall like the Terminal 5 during the tour, in which we supported 'This is All Yours.' We couldn’t believe how many more people came out the next time we played New York.”
Expectations were high for Alt J after the 2014 tour, and the band met them with “Relaxer,” which dropped in June. The unusual arrangements and constant stylistic shifts make for a compelling album.
“We’re constantly trying out new stuff,” Unger-Hamilton said. “We’re not lazy when it comes to creativity. We’re compelled to explore options. We want to keep evolving like the Beatles did. The Beatles are a massive inspiration.”
The melding of Unger-Hamilton and Newman’s voices helps make Alt J sound so different from any other band.
“Joe and I combine for a vocal sound that is Americana folk meets Laurel Canyon,” Unger-Hamilton said.
“There is no other cocktail of vocals out there like what we present. We’re unusual, and I really think that’s a good thing today. When you look around at all the predictable in music, I think there are fans that want something more than that. We challenge ourselves to not just do what everybody else does. We’ll give you something you won’t expect with every album, and we’ll do the same Halloween night.”
It’s surprising that a British band is so enthusiastic about All Hallows Eve since it’s sometimes considered an American holiday.
“You know how it is,” Unger-Hamilton said. “When something is popular in America, it eventually creeps over to other parts of the world. Just wait 'til you see what we’ll do. The band and the entire crew is involved. We have the Halloween spirit.”
Alt J appears Tuesday, Oct. 31, at The Fillmore, 29 E. Allen St., Philadelphia. Tickets are $57.50. Showtime is 8 p.m.