How must it feel to open a set with a track like “Walk Like A Panther”? The sheer punch of such a song, particularly as it ignites from portentous instrumental to primal, chest-bursting howl, sets a formidable precedent for tonight’s show in East London.
Algiers are in town for some of their last engagements of a year that has seen them release a truly exceptional LP, The Underside of Power, enjoy gradual but consistent critical and commercial attention, and spend a surreal (their word) period supporting Depeche Mode through their tour of Europe’s most cavernous arenas and stadia. For the most part tonight, their performance is more than worthy of such stratospheric highs, and although this evening’s show is not without its hiccups, they’re largely beyond the band’s control.
One of the most thrilling things about Algiers is their near-peerless ability to realise a complex artistic vision without clouding it in alienating theory or pretension. Each record of theirs is viscerally affecting first, and intellectually stimulating closely second. Live, this really is a thing to behold; the blaze of Franklin Fisher’s eloquent, incisive lyrical sentiments is undimmed by the lack of studio support, yet neither are the physical, industrious grooves of his band. The mechanistic pound of “Death March”, for example, has a live power that only reinforces the urgency of his climactic yell of “This how the hate keeps passing on!”. It’s an early highlight of the gig, spine-tingling in its combination of brute force and persuasive moral assertion.
It’s a shame, then, that circumstances occasionally dampen Algiers’ otherwise irresistible force this evening. Namely, there are points at which the sound inside Moth Club, for whatever reason, simply doesn’t do justice to the scale of the group’s music. The new record’s sensational title track is a prime example. One of the year’s most electrifying singles, it nonetheless labours somewhat under an oppressively mid-heavy mix; it retains its vital spirit, but lacks the definition which lends its recorded counterpart such coruscating immediacy.
Having said that, there’s something about Algiers’ sheer presence these days which largely compensates for such quibbles. It’s exhilarating to bear witness to a group who give the impression of being absolutely at their zenith, yet betray no signs of having to descend from such lofty artistic peaks any time soon. If anything, the technical shortcomings tonight are at least partly a by-product of this; music of this intensity, this tangible sense of internationalist ambition, is not designed to be presented in venues of this size. That’s no sleight on Moth Club, which has its considerable charms, but this stuff is ready to fill much larger rooms and resonate with far vaster crowds. To be clear, that isn’t intended in a patronising, “stick at this, lads, and you’ll be millionaires soon!” kind of way; Algiers are one of the most important rock bands in the world just now, and deserve – nay, need – to be heard by audiences far greater in volume than they currently are.