Photos by Amanda “boo” Gómez, Words by Elle Roc
Upon arriving at the Knitting Factory, we knew we were in for a treat. The exposed brick, short stage, and copious seating provided a cozy and intimate venue; it promised the possibility of deep connection with the music that would be played that night. It was casual—the press pit was simply standing somewhere near the stage, alongside friends, longtime fans, and newcomers of Algiers alike. It was unpretentious, not over-produced, and irresistibly welcoming.
However, the onstage instrumentation setup said otherwise. Not one, not two, but three synthesizer decks, one of which was currently shrouded in fabric, so we could only make out a keyboard-like figure. Standing cymbals, a violin bow. Numerous guitars, a gleaming drumkit, and a bass that could have been designed by Isaac Asimov. It was organized chaos that would only make sense when Algiers took to the stage.
Algiers proudly displayed their disregard for genre and the conventional in their choice of opening acts–both were saxophone-drum duos, which would have been comical in any other setting, but worked beautifully for this show. The first set started off with no frills and perhaps the most sensual soundcheck I had ever witnessed. Oort Smog confidently took the stage, adjusting the sound of the saxophone, testing out the kit. Along with artful, technical drumming, the saxophone wailed, cried, sobbed and sang, full of emotion and jazzy prowess. Next up was Party Dozen, an Aussie duo who, despite having similar instrumentation, utilized a decorated pedalboard (with tons of distortion), growling riffs, and the occasional drum-and-bass beat to create a more urgent, punk-rooted sound. The Sydney outfit had a powerful stage presence, evoking endless confidence. The saxophonist in particular exuded energy, occasionally rhythmically screaming into the distorted saxophone as if it were a megaphone. Both acts were phenomenal, and will continue supporting Algiers as they tour.
After a collective, silent nod of the band members towards one another, we were met with a wall of sound. The power of “Irreversible Damage” pushed the speakers to their limits, the crowd awash with a burst of energy. Though Zack de la Rocha did not appear live for his feature (as we hoped he might), the song was no less impactful, grim and bleak but lyrically masterful, synthesizers rising as the band chanted “time is over!”.
We received a call to action with “Cry of the Martyrs” next, and though the themes held gravity, there was buoyancy in the venue for the entire night. The concert came in waves, moments of pure, unadulterated sound offset by melodic, experimental interludes and supported by the pure power of the singer’s (Franklin James Fisher) voice. Features blared over the speakers, consuming the crowd.
On every track, Fisher engaged with the audience, crying power through his microphone, with soulful croons and deliberate, passionate verses. Ryan Mahan, bassist and keys, was effervescent, dressed in a beret, a turtleneck, and denim, dancing fluidly on every track with a certain vivacity. Lee Tesche, on guitar, more synths and percussion, was unbelievably composed, speaking truth from his guitar, lips, and a host of niche instruments, unfazed by the roaring euphony. Matt Tong, drummer, had a silent smile, calm and collected whilst tearing up the kit, vigor behind every roll. A couple of times, Fisher even left the stage to join the crowd, head-banging with a particularly enthusiastic fan, and rapping directly into the cameras of those near the front, testifying to the joys of such an intimate venue.
With a setlist mostly in support of their most recent album, “Shook”, they doubled down on whom they’ve always been, singing out about injustice and violence, of collectivism and community. Algiers has always been aware of the zeitgeist, unapologetically political. They named their band with the colonized people of Algeria in mind, remembering the atrocities but also the grassroots influence of the 1950s Battle of Algiers. Thus begins the timeline of the movements they reference, with political scenes, well-known and otherwise, from the 1950s to the present flashing on the tarp behind the stage, flashing urgently along to the rumbling drums. Fully relevant and fully jarring, these scenes were not an afterthought, accompanying the battle cry against authority and solidarity with marginalized voices that constitutes their discography. They played mostly new music during the show, but their penultimate track, “Cleveland”, written shortly after the murder of George Floyd, fit perfectly within their set, creating an emotional moment as Fisher sang: “Here come the boys in black and white / with the kerosene / It’s been the same evil power since in ‘63 / They hang in Homewood, Alabama with the whitest sheets / And in Montgomery County, Maryland for a sapling tree”. They proceeded to name those who had been wronged by police brutality, names to never forget. Here it is obvious that they have cultivated their art as activism, spirit unfettered. The saxophonist from Oort Smog joined for the last few tracks, the sultry saxophone mixing well with the already-eclectic sound of the main set.
The voices of all the members rose up for the ending track, the Shook anthem “Bite Back”. Algiers had nothing left to prove, leaving us with an age-old message of liberation for the wronged, the outcasts, the organizers, the oppressed: “Bite back the hand that feeds you if it’s poison! Bite back the hand that feeds you if it’s poison!”
Algiers is more than a band–it is a facilitator of the collective. Throughout the show, they radiated both ardor and levity, engaging with the crowd as we danced and shouted, sang and moshed. Through their post-punk, hip-hop, jazz, spoken word and poetry, activism, electronica, and other intersectional methods of expression, they created a liberating sonic space that we could stand and be a part of for a little while. Their political message held weight, and their spirit was wholly unfettered. It moved with us, and as we exited the venue and blasted Shook through our speakers on the freeway, it sounded different, somehow even more whole, and we realized that they had infused their very spirit into the concertgoers.