Algiers. Larimer Lounge. 10.03.15
Many words have been written about Algiers since their self-titled debut dropped a few months ago, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time discussing their politics, background, or influences. Anyone reading this is probably fully aware that the band layers gospel, blues and soul over industrial post-punk to create a (slightly volatile) platform for Franklin James Fisher to voice his rage against unjust societies across the globe. Comparisons to Suicide, The Gun Club, Nick Cave, the bluesier side of Tom Waits’ Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards, and even Fela Kuti and Public Enemy, are all completely legit, but to try to compartmentalize Algiers into a smattering of subgenres, credited to the influencers who pioneered them, would be doing the band a disservice. Formed in London, with roots in the Deep South, Algiers are creating music that could only be created in today’s climate. Just as the current cultural difficulties we are facing weren’t created in a vacuum, songs like “Blood”, “Black Eunuch” and “Irony. Utility. Pretext.” use the past as a foundation to build something completely unique…and entirely modern.
It was because of that music that I found walking into Larimer Lounge a slightly disappointing experience last night. I realize the internet is a deceptive place, but with the overwhelming praise heaped upon Algiers and their debut album (not to mention it really is one of the best albums of the year), I was expecting a sold-out show. I expected heated ‘think piece’ conversations to come alive over PBRs and IPAs on the back patio, while the heavy sounds of BAMBARA bled out of the packed, musty venue. But when I found myself on the other side of the black curtain, I was surprised to find myself relatively alone. It was 10:15pm and the space was empty. The patio was occupied by nothing more than a lone bartender shivering in her North Face parka. An hour later, there were maybe twenty people in attendance as the guys were setting up their gear. The crowd would double in size by the time the opening bells were chiming through the PA, but Algiers ended up giving new meaning to the word ‘intimate’ before their fifty minute set was over.
Every member of Algiers had a core competency last night, but they also proved themselves the masters of the multi-task. Fisher (being the only black man in a band whose lyrical content is focused on the current and historic struggles of the black man) was the voice of the group, but when he wasn’t preaching like a guy on fire, he could be found playing guitar, creating on-the-fly loops, and operating a drum machine. Ryan Mahan acted as the bassist, but he was also right at home controlling the synthesizer and other electronic elements of the evening. Lee Tesche’s fingers rarely left his guitar, but when they did, it was to put bow (or chain or other metal object) to cymbal in order to create brand-new shiny sounds. Matt Tong (formerly of Bloc Party) kept time at the drums, but only when he wasn’t keeping time on the electric kit he had to his side. Fisher was obviously the one to watch, but as every member of the band filled in on harmony and other human sounds (like hand claps, boot stomps, chest punches, etc.), there was no doubt that Algiers was a group effort on that stage.
The set opened with “Old Girl”. Fisher was dressed all in black (jeans, shirt, sport coat and dress shoes) as his purposely distorted vocals set the scene. “Oh Lord / What the devil sees in them / Oh Lord” As things cleared up (the closer he got to the chorus), Fisher’s energy level no longer allowed him to be confined to such a small space, so he jumped into the audience to spread the love. After finding his way back to the band for “But She Was Not Flying”, Fisher let Mahan take over as he dropped to his knees to beat himself with a tambourine. It wasn’t until the mid-way point of the track that he was back on his feet and almost rapping through the rest of the song. The show continued on like that, with each selection finding the lead singer being moved by a different spirit (or demon). “And When You Fall” found him imitating James Brown’s dance moves, while “Irony. Utility. Pretext.” found him feeding off the guy doing flips in the front row (verbally encouraging his behavior), before joining him on the floor for a bit…all while Tesche made good use of his bow. “Cladudette” was the first truly soulful tune (if you can call an extremely danceable post-punk track soulful) and then the clap-clap-stomp-stomp “Remains” took us from Denver to the deepest of the South.
Places like Larimer Lounge are not known for their great sound, so it wasn’t surprising that some of the lyrics got lost in the synthetic samples and loud guitar and percussion, but that just made it all that much more special when the noise was stripped away to allow Fisher to sing the blues on “Games”. Armed with nothing but a guitar, a voice, and a message, he channeled the long-lost greats as he took us to a church of his own making. “We bury ourselves in our bottles / We bury ourselves in our bibles” As much as I love the dark soundscapes that Mahan provides so well, “Games” provided a satisfying interlude to the barrage of noise. It took that (almost) solo rendition for me to realize how much Fisher’s voice reminded me of Willis Earl Beal, and when it was followed by “Blood” (which found him laying down, singing into the ground), the similarities in their stage presence were revealed as well.
The night ended with “Black Eunuch”. What started out as the first choreographed clap-along selection, ended in a noisy jam chock-full of revolutionary clips from the Civil Rights movement. It was the perfect way to end a powerful set, even if that end came way too soon. As I left the Lounge and made my way past the Walnut Room, I couldn’t help but reflect on the Willis Earl Beal show I’d seen there recently. The similarities between the two shows were many, but the overall feeling of the performances couldn’t have been more different. Willis Earl Beal casts his audience in the form of the priest (or therapist) listening to the confession, while Algiers create an atmosphere of openness with their fans. Blurring the line between entertainer and entertained, the handful of us at Larimer Lounge were all part of the congregation; we were all part of the choir. And although redemption was nowhere to be found in the songs we were singing, the fact that a band like Algiers exists provides a little bit of hope for the future.
But She Was Not Flying
And When You Fall
Irony. Utility. Pretext.