In the wake of race based riots, not-so-secret police violence and the ongoing presidential campaign of Donald Trump, self-reflection is something many argue the United States could do with at the moment. Atlanta-based band Algiers are holding up the blackest of mirrors to their mother country. Merging gospel, hip-hop, punk and everything in between, the dark hybrid sound that accompanies the socio-political message of the band is finally showcased for the hundred or so people gathered in Gulliver’s Pub in Northern Quarter.
The group enter to the sound of swelling doomsday strings and a recording of aggrieved African-American voices, an intense welcome to the next hour of small-stage social protest. The music remains similarly eerie as guitarist Lee Tesche’s instrument screeches and echoes, whilst frontman Franklin James Fischer gives a soulful, tortured vocal performance from the start. Dressed in a suit, Fischer resembles a preacher, wincing and wailing his way through songs—at one point, he even takes to the crowd, seemingly performing an exorcism on someone. There is a sense that this band are putting on the last gig on judgement day, a final funeral for the mesmerised audience.
Algiers’ strongest songs, ‘Irony.Utility.Pretext.’ and ‘But She Was Not Flying’ appear early on, demanding attention with handclaps, chants and violent harmonies, the latter track also providing the most impassioned of Fischer’s vocal performances. Although it can be hard to discern everything Fischer says, lyrics aimed at the powers that be do float up occasionally, as they are accused of “Deciding who is fit/To go out and die/And who is black enough/To be left behind”.
The crowd’s interest dwindles somewhat with ‘Remains’, bassist Ryan Mahan’s attempt to cause a clap-along by beating his own chest and head becoming insipid rather than inspiring; by the time ‘Blood’ comes on, the man who was exorcised has whipped out a vape pen and a middle-aged couple are seen kissing to the words “four hundred years of torture”. Matt Tong, the ex-Bloc Party drummer who has joined the band for live shows, can seem like a frustrated circus animal at times. His thwacks dwarf other elements of the music, yet the clinical ferocity he displayed in his old band never surfaces, which is a shame given this is one of the best drummers British indie music has seen.
Fears the band may have peaked too soon however are dismissed when they reach their slow moment. ‘Games’ is a beaten-up guitar ballad about faith, in religion and in humanity, switching the tone from aggressive to melancholic. This captivates the crowd entirely and going into final song, ‘Black Eunuch’, you can see they’ve been won over. With a fantastic guitar riff and Fischer throwing in some dance moves, just to show that it doesn’t have to be so serious all the time, the controlled noise builds flawlessly to the show’s successful climax. Although Algiers can hardly constitute easy listening, their message resolutely hits home.
Unlike other artists in America discussing similar themes, say for instance Kendrick Lamar, the band don’t seek audience participation through catchiness or an accessible style. This makes them a spectacle. Algiers stun you into silence and force you to listen to them so you think about what they’re saying. The show ends then on a last note as dramatic as its first. An incredible performance overall, they will surely grab the attention of the wider world, as they did to this small pub in Manchester, by virtue of being a truly relevant band for today.