alt-J & Portugal. The Man back-to-back in St. Louis

It was another perfect night of music at St. Louis’ Chaifetz Arena on March 15th, 2022. To kick off the three-round alternative rock extravaganza and filling in for Sir Chloe at this stop of the tour was a band known as Windser. Born in Spring of 2020, Windser was created by Jordan Topf at the beginning of the pandemic as a way to express himself. Now, John — along with a handful of musicians who play live with him — is taking Windser’s dreamy vibes on the road. The band’s set was filled with warm guitar parts and ethereal vocals, all adding up to a very psychedelic and emotional performance.

Next on stage was American rock band, Portugal. The Man.

This band has grown in popularity since I started listening to their Evil Friends album in 2013, becoming a household name when their radio-friendly and GRAMMY Award-winning single “Feel it Still” began dominating the air waves after its 2017 release. Naturally, Portugal. The Man is big enough to headline a tour in their own right and tonight, they were not afraid to show the crowd that they were just another opening band. As they took the stage, billows of clouds began to fill the arena with haze and the electric screams of guitars filled the air. If you were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of lead vocalist John Gourley through the smoke, you probably saw him with his guitar pulled up right under his nose, staring it down as he pulled out sounds that you didn’t know a guitar could make. 

The band kept things interesting, playing a combination of fan-favorites like the aforementioned “Feel it Still” and “Live in the Moment”, as well as a very interesting set of covers, which included Nirvana’s “In Bloom”, Metallica‘s “For Whom the Bells Toll’ and Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”. They also played a deep cut called “Day Man”, which is a musical number about fictional super heroes from the popular TV show It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.

Once the smoke cleared from PTM, a hush fell over the crowd.

The quiet anticipation for alt-J filled the air with electric energy. 20 minutes later, the lights in the stadium went out and the room erupted with screams of excitement. As the curtain onstage rose and the band walked out, the show’s mind-blowing production was revealed. On their last tour three years ago, the band played with rows of lights hanging in a grid-like pattern between the band members; the production for The Dream Tour was the natural evolution of that stage. A giant cube of light, elevated above the stage, surrounded band members Joe Newman (guitar/vocals), Gus Unger-Hamilton (keyboard/vocals) and Thom Sonny Green (drums). Backed by a massive LED board and illuminated from all sides by projectors, the cube allowed for alt-J’s visuals to be viewed in three dimensions.

Softly glowing candles surrounded the band as they began the show, alternating between new songs from their 2022 album The Dream and older hits from previous records. Newman’s voice can be hard to understand to new listeners, especially for people who might not be familiar with his UK accents, made even harder with speedy lyrics that contribute to the music’s upbeat and cheery tone. alt-J‘s hits have always been cheerful and manic, while their slower, sadder songs often also feature moments that could be interpreted as joyful. However, once you Google the lyrics to their songs, they take a much darker, scarier form. Even alt-J’s most joyous tunes feature themes about love lost, people dying and other much more sinister subjects. Their biggest hit, which dominated the radio back in 2011, called “Breezeblocks” is about the narrator drowning his loved one in a bathtub, with the chorus “hold her down with soggy clothes and breeze blocks” (breeze blocks are hollow bricks, similar to cinderblocks).

This juxtaposition between cheerful sounding music and the dark subject matter hidden within them lends itself to a very cathartic experience for an enthusiastic listener. This was apparent at the show, as the crowd all jumped and screamed the lyrics, hands in the air writhing and twisting as they poured their hearts out with the band onstage. It was definitely one of those concerts that you never want to end. However it did and it ended in the same way that alt-J always ends their shows — by singing “Breezeblocks”. This song wraps things up perfectly, because its last verse says what’s on everyone’s mind: a spirited round of screaming the same line on repeat…”Please don’t go, please don’t go, I love you so, I love you so!”

Photography by Sean Rider

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