For a band who were all but unheard of at the start of the year outside of their native Leeds, selling out a two-date overseas tour in just 3 minutes is not only impressive, it’s downright rare.
Particularly when that same group compounded their enigma by naming themselves after the unpronounceable delta symbol produced by a Mac keyboard shortcut.
Yet, here are 300+ punters squeezed body-to-body in the already modestly sized Ding Dong Lounge, soaking up each other’s sweat under the oppression of a room starved of air conditioning and a clear thru line to the bar or toilets.
All crammed like sardines to say that they were there, they were part of the hype; to add their voice to the roar of approval that greeted the closing of each song as if it was the band’s last.
This is alt-j, and it’s safe to say that Laneway organisers are probably considering a later time slot and a larger stage to accommodate the four politely creative, quietly revolutionary English lads as these very words are written, based solely off the success of their virgin Australian visit.
Before the room crackles with electricity though, there is New Gods to contend with.
An indie supergroup of sorts, based on their lineup which features refugees from Little Red (R.I.P.), along with members of Eagle and the Worm and Ground components; they play with the tight efficiency you’d expect of a group of their pedigree.
Their slick, professional set demonstrates that their reputation precedes them. If they can pull off an evening’s worth of canny tunes like ‘On Your Side’, they’ll be set to stake a wider claim soon enough.
Still, it’s hard to ignore that people are beginning to chew the scenery for the Fine Arts students (and one Literary major) yet to grace the stage.
Arriving with a modest hello, they quickly perform the intro and the first (slightly wonky) interlude from their debut, An Awesome Wave, both of which are greeted with an eruption of passionate applause.
The ecstatic response prompts laddish looking frontman Joe Newman, he of the distinctively quirky voice and obscure lyrical references, to shake his head in smiling disbelief. A setting he’ll return to for much of the evening as he and his bandmates are stunned by how well versed the crowd are in the 40 minute running time of their sole studio album.
‘Tesselate’ gets the first of many full-lunged sing-a-longs for the evening, particularly affecting given that it’s not your typical audience anthem.
Its sex-as-geometry themes and puzzle-like lyrics do nothing to stop people shouting along with the beered-up leering of your average Bon Jovi karaoke enthusiast.
It’s a bizarre visage to say the least when later, four drunk louts begin punctuating the stark, spacious twinkle of ‘MS’ and its refrain of ‘dark meets dark’ with a cry of “bitches!” (yes, really).
Others prefer to simply sway to the hip-hop punch of Thom Green’s snapping drumkit and Gwillym Sainsbury’s occasionally growling basslines.
For all the musical references to Radiohead and Wild Beasts that are regularly directed alt-j’s way, they tend to forget the grizzly bottom-end of the Brooklynite samba of ‘Dissolve Me’,or the grinding thrill of ‘Fitzpleasure’ – which both contain genuine swagger.
It’s all part of the band’s unique defying of genres, instead mixing elements to produce their own distinct art-pop shapes.
The intimacy of folk gliding effortlessly with electronic flourishes on ‘Matilda’, or ‘Something Good’s eccentric wordplay, stuttered march, and gilded piano.
The quartet pull off all their sophisticated sounds to a tee in the live setting, even a pared-back deconstruction of Kylie Minogue’s ‘Slow’ goes down a treat to a venue thick with bodies.
Their short set – all said and done in an hour – is a moot point considering they play the entirety of their debut, and as they depart to a sea of hands giving them their triangle salute, they offer numerous, breathless thanks; adding, “you’ve made it feel like home.”
It was simply one of those shows.
Whether alt-j fulfil the ridiculous prophecy already heaped upon them, or disappear altogether; they’ll never again play to Australians in such an intimate space.
A fact that any one of the sweaty revellers that were there, grinning with the luck of the Irish and glowing in the wake of a great performance, will be more than happy to tell you.