Live review and photos by Justin Richardson
An unusual combination of metalheads, hipsters, and various other local regulars descended on the lonely Tremont Music Hall on a muggy Sunday night in Charlotte, NC. It’s one of the only clubs in the area to showcase smaller international acts, which translates to all but the biggest bands that underground metal has to offer. For the really small bands like Alcest, a smaller stage is available–The Casbah. Intimate, but generally known for its shitty sound mix and lighting overall. In some ways it has its charm though. For Alcest it meant an extremely small environment to experience a live documentary orchestrated by Neige’s dreamscapes.
After two local openers were done, I made my way near the front to see what the tour opener, Deafhaven, was all about. I did some research before going to the show and checked out a few songs. To these ears it sounded like some kind of combination of screamo, post-rock, and black metal while trying its damnedest, at least image-wise, to be anything but.
As the band finishes their brief sound-check, vocalist George Clarke motions for the lights to be cut. All that remains is a few dim backlights and a lot of pretentiousness. Perhaps I was annoyed more with the crowd than with the band itself. To me this seemed like black metal-lite with a vocal style that I just don’t relate to. When I see something that’s supposed to resemble black metal, I’m fine without Satanic overtones. I’m fine without all the cliches we’ve come to laugh about and/or appreciate about the genre. But it seemed to me that Deafhaven was avoiding the grit and weight that I fell in love with about the genre. It was a band that is missing the point of the genre. And hey, that’s fine. The band can make all the music they want, and if it makes them happy that’s fantastic, but to me it just sounds like a band that’s missing the mark. For a band that just released a debut album, I have to say that it does impress me a bit to find that they already have a decent following. They made their fans happy, but I was ready to move on to Alcest.
I’ve heard some describe Alcest as a boring live band. In a way, I can understand that. The band isn’t energetic in the slightest and Neige keeps interaction with the audience at a bare minimum. But if you know Alcest’s music, why would you expect either of these? And if your first exposure to Alcest is in a live setting, I think the music stands on its own enough to intrigue. The music was the focal point of this show, and it was anything but boring. And depending on your “luck,” you might have an interesting audience to add to the experience. I was lucky enough to “experience” two rednecks, completely plastered, barely speaking English. A complete juxtaposition from the nearly astral experience that Alcest offers. Talk about staying grounded through the experience. But by mid-set, one left and the other, dripping with sweat, just stood there with his head hung down and barely able to stand up. You know the look, the post-adrenaline-alcohol-induced-near-zombification look that happens when you don’t pace yourself through a show — or drinking in general.
But aside from those two wonderful people, the audience was generally quite calm and quiet which was a surprise and equally a delight. There are times for yelling, chanting, and headbanging — but those times are very few and far between for a band like Alcest. Neige is there to play his music and be done with it. To that end, the songs were played beautifully as they are on the albums, albeit with a few issues in the sound mixing. If he feels his job is to transport us into his dream world, then I feel he achieves this not only on his albums but also in a live setting. For a visual aspect, I believe that adding some smoke and variations on lighting would really enhance the show for people. It’s a small touch that I feel would add so much to the show, but was completely left out (possibly due to Tremont’s limited abilities on their smaller stage).
For those who love Alcest on disc and aren’t concerned about interaction from the band, then the show will make you happy. I think a longer set with a little more from the older albums would be nice, especially with sufficient time allotment, but at the end of the day a band is going to play what they want. They made their fans happy, they made me happy, and all it cost was $10. Do yourself a favor and go see them on their remaining April 2012 tour dates. And if you miss them this time around, hopefully they’ll be back around again soon.