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Alcest live at Allston, MA’s Brighton Music Hall

Alcest at Brighton Music Hall
Alcest at Brighton Music Hall
Words and Photos by Ben Stas

If its recent opening night at a packed Brighton Music Hall is any indication, Alcest’s current North American winter tour is a necessary pilgrimage for even the casual admirer of the French group’s haunting, blackened post-metal soundscapes. In addition to an eclectic pair of openers in the Deafheaven-affiliated Creepers and Portland, OR’s aggressively adventurous The Body, Alcest themselves brought an ideal distillation of what’s made the band an enduring force in the past decade-plus to a hugely appreciative crowd.

The genesis of the dreamy, tremolo-picked “blackgaze” subgenre is often attributed to Stéphane “Neige” Paut’s early releases as Alcest, and there are few bands that have taken heavy influence from that sound to greater commercial heights than their former tour-mates in San Francisco’s Deafheaven. In the more traditionally lush shoegaze of the currently tour-supporting Creepers, however, Deafheaven guitarist Shiv Mehra and drummer Dan Tracy wore U.K. acts like Ride or Slowdive as more obvious reference points. On first for the night of January 19th, the Mehra-fronted quintet sounded progressively more confident and cohesive the longer they played, and at their best delivered solid homage to the genre greats. Tracy’s hyperactive drumming stood out most prominently, though his playing sometimes outmatched the otherwise straightforward arrangements and gave the songs a sense of bursting at the seams.

Last year’s lauded No One Deserves Happiness was something of a breakthrough for The Body, insofar as a band like The Body can have one. The integration of female vocals and a greater range of sounds electronic and otherwise into Lee Buford and Chip King’s nihilistic drone-sludge brought them some louder media buzz and some new listeners, while subsequently raising the question of how it might alter their notoriously caustic live sets. Gone were Buford’s drums, as it turns out for this tour, along with King’s guitar and their wall of amplifiers, all replaced by stations of electronic gadgets (and a third, hooded member to the far left). Performing in the dark and drawing the crowd’s attention to a series of obscure projected images, the trio sounded less viscerally punishing than The Body of yore, but no less harrowing. King’s inhuman shrieks punched through a churning sheet of industrial clamor that engulfed the room, leaving its inhabitants both impressed and shaken.

As Alcest took the stage a bit later, a different mood immediately swept over the crowd – one of deep and palpable reverence. Neige and his three-piece band, including his only studio counterpart, drummer Jean “Winterhalter” Deflandre, received a hero’s welcome before playing a single note, but they would earn it with the stirring set that followed.

Alcest took a left-turn as a project in 2014 with the release of Shelter, an LP that did away with its formerly central metal influences almost entirely. Though the record is an enjoyable listen on its own terms, reception was decidedly mixed, and Shelter became an immediate outlier in the band’s catalog. Conversely, last fall’s excellent Kodama made a deliberate shift back toward Alcest’s core sound, and quickly became one of its most warmly received releases. Neige’s focus for the show was heavy on that new material, which sounded positively majestic, along with older work that would complement it.

Alcest’s fusion of atmospherics and a particular soaring heaviness is cinematically moving in its finest moments, and this set frequently embodied that feeling. Minimal silhouettes and blasts of light dramatically illuminated the band as they performed a well-paced balance of the new songs and older selections, largely from 2010’s Écailles de Lune and 2012’s Les Voyages de l’ me. Their delivery was the near-flawless work of a band with total mastery of the material and the necessary collective ear for nuance. As an Alcest first-timer, that aforementioned audience reverence made a lot of sense by the end of the night.

Creepers

The Body

Alcest

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