By Dave Pehling
OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Two modern music acts that incorporate gospel influences in very different ways bring their tandem tour to the Bay Area when psychedelic soul songwriter Curtis Harding teams with minimalist post-punk crew Algiers for shows in Oakland and Santa Cruz this week.
Drawn to music by his gospel-singing mother, Harding would occasionally sing back-up at her church performances as a teen growing up in Atlanta, but eventually turned to secular music. He joined the hip-hop group Proseed in the early 2000s, which led him into the orbit of Goodie Mob member and solo artist CeeLo Green. Harding joined Green’s touring band as a back-up singer and would later contribute to recordings, even co-writing the song “Grand Canyon.”
After spending some time in Toronto in search of new musical inspiration which led him to buying a guitar and writing his first batch of songs, Harding returned to Atlanta and founded the garage punk/soul group Night Suns with Black Lips guitarist Cole Alexander. A single the band recorded for Burger Records led to a solo deal for Harding, who released his debut album Soul Power for the label in 2014.
Packed with infectious retro R&B tracks that at times recalled Curtis Mayfield, the album still managed to mix in fuzz guitar and glam-tinged stomp that nodded to David Bowie and T. Rex. The singer and his band gained welcome exposure opening for Jack White on a string of sold-out dates that summer.
While it would be some time before he released a follow-up effort, last year Harding’s sophomore release Face Your Fear at last came out via Anti- Records. Collaborating with Danger Mouse at his 30th Century Studio in New York City, the album takes away some of the rawness of Harding’s debut in exchange for a lush, more heavily orchestrated approach that owes a debt to the sweeping psychedelic soul sound Isaac Hayes cultivated on his early albums.
For this run of West Coast dates that started in Portland, Harding is joined by fellow Atlanta-based band Algiers. Guitarist Lee Tesche and bassist Ryan Mahan were childhood friends and had already played in a number Atlanta bands since their teens when singer/multi-instrumentalist and friend Franklin James Fischer became a regular fixture at their live shows in the late 2000s.
The trio began collaborating, crafting a sound that touched on the synth-powered proto-industrial mimimalism of Suicide, the brooding intensity of Nick Cave’s bands the Birthday Party and the Bad Seeds and the dub-influenced experimentation of PIL touched with Motown soul. Algiers aired it’s first sampling of gospel-soul-meets-post-punk-ferocity in 2012 with the release of the single “Blood” on Atlanta-based label Double Phantom Records.
With Fischer’s soulful voice and impassioned delivery taking center stage amid soundscapes that mixed howling guitars, industrial/hip-hop beats and ghostly vocal samples, the single attracted the attention of indie powerhouse Matador Records. The band’s self-titled debut was released in the summer of 2015, dazzling reviewers and fans with its kaleidoscopic swirl of influences and feverish social commentary that had some likening the group to a post-punk version of Public Enemy.
The group would bring on former Bloc Party drummer Matt Tong before heading out on the road to promote the album, opening for modern post-punk outfit Interpol before bringing their savage, cathartic live shows to clubs on both sides of the Atlantic on their first headlining tour.
The group would maintain a busy schedule of live dates at European festivals as it began recording its sophomore album in 2016. Working with Bristol-based Portishead member Adrian Utley as producer, the band members began piecing together their disparate ideas into new songs, all informed the rising political and racial tensions in post-Trump U.S. and post-Brexit England.
The resulting album if anything elevates the spirited intensity and fervor of the band’s first album. Songs like “Walk Like a Panther” (which samples a speech by slain Black Panther activist Fred Hampton) and the stomping title track “The Underside of Power” find Algiers distilling uneasiness over our increasingly dystopian present into a fiery, cathartic soundtrack. The potent double bill comes to the New Parish in Oakland on Tuesday night before moving on to the Catalyst in Santa Cruz Wednesday night.
Curtis Harding with Algiers
Tuesday, May 29, 8 p.m.
Wednesday, May 30, 8:30 p.m.