On Sept. 11, 14th Street’s Black Cat celebrated its 28th anniversary with a concert featuring five bands and a DJ between sets. The headlining act was Algiers, an Atlanta-based rock quartet known for its albums “The Underside of Power” and “There Is No Year,” both released in the last five years.
Vocalist and keyboardist Franklin James Fisher, guitarist Lee Tesche and bassist Ryan Mahan have been playing together for years, but they formed Algiers officially in 2012 when they were joined by drummer Matt Tong. Tong is currently on paternity leave, so the band is touring with Dante Foley of the group Mourning [A] BLKstar on drums.
Upstage was awash in magenta light, and a green glare glinted off the guitar and bass further downstage. The bandmates were dressed casually and according to their individual styles, allowing the music to suggest their camaraderie and coordination rather than their look. Though they appeared visually dissonant, their sound meshed effortlessly.
Opening with the title track from “There Is No Year,” Algiers came out swinging with a fast-paced, high-intensity banger punctuated by impassioned “woahs.” Every band member was 110% committed to the performance, imbuing each sound with an uninhibited ferocity that did not let up for the entire rest of the evening.
The band switched fluidly between instruments, in turns adding and subtracting keys by Fisher, saxophone by Tesche and synths by Mahan. At one memorable point, the bandmates all switched to forms of percussion, such as tambourine, maracas and body percussion, and fell to the ground pounding the stage, utterly absorbed in the moment. The audience clapped along enthusiastically, and the band did an excellent job of mobilizing the energy of the crowd.
Much of the set utilized heavy reverb, creating an eerie, atmospheric effect, particularly in “Black Eunuch” and “Liberation,” an Outkast cover. Urgent, compelling vocals transmuted into otherworldly howling, and the voices of the band members overlapped each other to form an apocalyptic soundscape.
A few songs especially allowed the skill of the musicians to shine unimpeded. On “Cry of the Martyrs,” the instruments faded out at the end, magnificently highlighting Fisher’s weighty, gospel-infused vocals. On the sharp, anthemic “Dispossession,” the music built heavily, driving Fisher’s voice higher as he declared, “Freedom is coming soon.” On the cinematic “Cleveland,” drummer and Cleveland native Foley brought maximum finesse and potency, while Fisher’s lyrics highlighted the oppression Black Americans face in our justice system.
Algiers’ music has been praised for its political character, particularly for its themes of unrest, liberation and racial justice. The concept and lyrics from the band’s third album “There Is No Year” were pulled from “Misophonia,” an epic poem by Fisher exploring inner and global turmoil. However, the band said its highest priority is for its audience to simply enjoy the music.
“We’re a band, not a political party, not political scientists or activists. We’re a band, and we make music. That’s our main stock and trade,” Fisher said in a post-concert interview with The Hoya.
Luckily, the music produced by Algiers has resonated as much with its nationwide audience as its fans at the Black Cat show. As the speakers blared, the dance floor was packed with audience members swaying, bouncing and rolling in time with the beat.
The band took a break midway through the set to sing “Happy Birthday” to the DJ, a fortuitous coincidence keeping with Black Cat’s celebratory evening. In raucous, joyful unison, patrons and performers alike came together to sing.
For Tesche, the band’s guitarist, those moments of unity on tour are ultimately what live music is all about. Performances like the one at Black Cat are what initially inspired Tesche to become a musician, he said.
“I remember going to so many shows when I was a teenager and seeing these bands play, and it really inspired me to play music and be in a band,” Tesche said in a post-concert interview with The Hoya. “For me, it’s just been a matter of just returning the favor. I want to be able to turn someone else on in the same way.”
This moment at Black Cat solidified Algiers as exemplary performers. The band’s lyrics reach for lofty themes, and its sound is complex and multifaceted. When playing live, however, Algiers transcended its music to become a fully realized group.
Algiers proved capable of having a good time by sharing the performance experience with everybody, eschewing pretensions and welcoming listeners into its musical world.