Brighton Music Hall
September 17, 2015
Photos by Lindsay Corry; more photos here
Algiers self-titled debut this year blew me away with its raw, layered sound and politically poignant lyrics, but for the same reasons I had low expectations for the live show. The Georgia band has created a kind of industrial gospel that combines a Savages-like take on post-punk with angry chants in the style of old slave songs. With echoing handclaps, armies of humming overdubs, and screeching guitars near death, the band needed to either pare its sound down to its most essential elements or unimaginatively play large sections of the tracks on a computer. Surprisingly, Algiers created almost all their sounds live - and not only did it do the album justice, but it gave a picture of how innovative bands like Algiers put songs together.
The band played at Boston’s Brighton Music Hall, a small, comfy venue with a couple billiard tables in the back and pictures of Pete Townshend and Paul Simonon on the wall. Local band Aneurysm opened first. The level their amp knobs were turned to was probably higher than the number of people in the venue as they fired to-the-point riffs similar to post-hardcore bands like Touché Amoré. Unfortunately, the singer - who I can best describe as sounding like an incoherent, drunk hillbilly - made the band into mostly a comedy act. Still, I would check them out if only to hear those badass guitar riffs. Next was Dark Blue, who is on tour with Algiers. They sounded like if somehow New Order and Interpol’s Paul Banks did a collaboration together, giving an interesting mix of 80s and contemporary rock. The bass player seemed almost too into the music - jumping around like the Pete Townshend on the wall, all while the Paul-Banks-like singer apathetically stood still for the whole show - but otherwise it was a chill way to cool down from the loud goofiness of Aneurysm and get ready for Algiers.
I should mention that during Aneurysm and Dark Blue there was this one weird dude in the audience who would occasionally go up right next the speakers, covering his ears but meditatively bobbing his head to the beat. I had my suspicions but wasn’t totally sure until Algiers got on stage that that weird dude was lead-singer Franklin James Fisher. The band took a risk and opened with what’s probably their most well-known song, “Black Eunuch.” It was an abrasive introduction - for a couple minutes the four-piece clapped and shouted those slave-song chants until guitarist Lee Tesche started playing those short, sharp riffs. Throughout the song the band looped a bunch of hums and “ooohs” on top of themselves until there was a wall of vocals behind them as they finished.
The four-piece wall of sound became a formula throughout the show, but a welcomed formula. Before each song the band would spend several minutes of what seemed like tuning their instruments and checking their mics - playing a few notes on a guitar or keyboard, the drummer hitting something a few times, someone shouting into the mic - until finally the track came alive. Every piece of complex tracks like “And When You Fall” and “Irony. Utility. Pretext.” were there on stage without sounding pre-produced or too much like the studio recording. I especially have to give credit to bassist and keyboardist Ryan Mahan, who put together a ton of those sounds. For the whole show he had this intense, 1,000-mile stare into the 50-person audience as he made really short yelps into the mic that sounded totally awkward while he was doing it but totally awesome when he looped those yelps on top of the song.
One highlight I have to point out was “Old Girl.” Once again the band spent several minutes creating a looped choir before beginning the song, and then they extended that drums-only breakdown in the middle of the song. The drummer had a regular drum set and an electronic one, which made this really hard-hitting mix of raw and produced sound. The wave of hums and “ahhhs” the band looped during those minutes poured out when Tesche delivered that buzzing, screeching guitar line that’s my favorite part of the whole album - and in turn that was my favorite part of the whole show. People should get tickets if only to hear that song live.
I can definitely see Algiers getting bigger, so it’s worth seeing them now while they’re playing at cheaper, smaller venues for a more intimate show. You’ll be able to hang with Fisher if he’s in the audience and then get a close view of his soulful singing and smooth dance moves to modern protest songs. In the coming weeks they’ll be in Denver, St. Louis, Chicago, Cleveland, Montreal, Toronto, and Brooklyn before heading on their European tour.
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