Concert Review: Mikky Ekko and Alt-J

November 10, 2014: The Fillmore, Detroit

Alt-J have made a permanent spot in my favorite band list over the last 2 years. No matter what current new release I’m falling in love with, I always seem to find my way back to An Awesome Wave. Their new release, This Is All Yours, has also made it’s way into my regular rotation since I reviewed it upon its release. I bought my ticket to their show right when they went on sale and was happy that I did because, like just about every other date on their U.S. tour, it sold old quickly.

The venue really didn’t start filling up until right before Mikky Ekko went on. It was Ekko’s first time in Detroit and his first day on the road with Alt-J. Ekko’s got a bit of a Bruno Mars meets Adam Levine thing going but he doesn’t need to ride on the coattails of anyone because he’s got quite the voice. If you listen to the radio, you’ve probably heard his voice on Rihanna’s Grammy winning song, “Stay”, which he also wrote. After learning this and seeing him perform live I can say that it is only a matter of time before you’re hearing Mikky Ekko everywhere.

The packed crowd seemed to get into the more upbeat tracks but personally I enjoyed “Smile” and “Mourning Doves” the most. “Mourning Doves” is a ballad which relies more on a quiet, reserved effort from Ekko. The breathy whispers throughout are Ekko at his most vulnerable. “Smile” is more upbeat but still slower than the rest of the songs Ekko filled his set with. “Smile the worst is yet to come  / We’ll be lucky if we ever see the sun” Mikky sang with a large smile stretched across his face as he looked around the venue. It’s a great little upbeat track that showcases the range of Mikky’s impressive voice. It was a good way to start the evening and I’m interested to hear Ekko’s debut full length album when it comes out.

The venue buzzed with excitement during the break between sets, exploding as soon as the lights dropped and the pulsing beat of “Hunger of the Pine” started. The stage was back lit with red as the silhouettes of the band walked out, taking their places at their instruments. There was a large round of applause as they began playing and Joe Newman began singing. It was great to see so many people just as excited as I was.

Alt-J’s live experience is just as much visual as it is musical. The lights and images that display across the tall, skinny screens that stand behind the band were carefully set to line up perfectly with each song, adding so much to the already impressive performance. The blue lights and flowing images during “Bloodflood” made it feel like the band was performing in an aquarium in front of us, creating a wonderfully surreal experience that fit the mood of the song perfectly. The visuals added so much to the experience it’s hard to imagine the band performing without them.

We were packed into The Fillmore like sardines but that didn’t stop anyone from dancing as much as they could as soon as the opening “Tra la la’s” of “Fitzpleasure” started. The track is one of my favorites so it was great to hear it played live with a crowd that was just as into the set as I was. It seemed like the crowd only got more and more excited as the guys moved through their set, especially when a favorite track was played. Most people simply danced along but there were moments during “Left Hand Free” and “Matilda” that Newman simply stepped back to let the crowd’s voice take center stage.

The guys didn’t spend much time talking in between tracks, moving seamlessly throughout their setlist. Typically I like when the band chimes in to tell the story behind songs or simply interact with one another but I think that the mood Alt-J sets with their show is one that works best without many interruptions. when Gus Unger-Hamilton did take a moment to speak, it was to express the band’s gratitude for all the love coming from the crowd before announcing what song would be played next.

The night moved quickly and I found myself surprised at how quickly time seemed to slip away when the band walked off the stage before their encore. Alt-J closed out their set with another personal favorite of mine, “Breezeblocks” which was a great way to end the evening. I have plans to see a few more shows in 2014 but I’m confident that this one will probably rank as number one for the year. I can only hope that it won’t be long before I get to see Alt-J play live again.