Today’s been kind of a downer. One of my main work clients declared bankruptcy. Consequently, a number of co-workers received their pink slips. Considering that the economy is “reopening,” this doesn’t bode well for future endeavors. Hence, the darkness of mood.
In that spirit, I’m going to tackle a moodier, broodier slice and sliver of neo-psych rock from Austin-based noise outfit The Black Angels. I figure their darker brand of brash and blistery psychedelic rock suits my needs of the day, on the one hand, a scorcher of a score for ominous auguries, on the other, a tripped out, sound-scraping mindbender for the pure escapism I’m currently seeking.
The Black Angels seem to fit this psychosomatic split quite squarely, and as such, warrant today’s coverage of a past performance, dating back to October of 2017 at the decorative Mayan Theatre in DTLA.
Clearly, this ranks as an older flashback from the concert annals, predating the inception of this blog, as well as the pandemic, and a bunch of other shit that’s happened in the last three years. But you know what “they” say, better late than never … and now seems the opportune time to extract its potent essence, and toss it out there for another prismatic trip and shadowy slide.
Now, I’ll just start by stating The Black Angels aren’t the average wedge of paisley pie. Their tunes are way more menacing, intricately dimmer and denser than the typical vibrancy of neo-psych radiance. I wouldn’t call them malicious, or even pessimistic. But they do dance on the cataclysm of sullen spirits, cutting a buzzed and fuzzed drone of serrated guitar grinds and infernal grooves. It’s an intense brand of kaleidoscopic clamor and thunder, which isn’t for the faint of heart.
In saying all this, I’ve painted The Black Angels into a fairly black corner. But they’re not a doom and gloom act. And they’re sonic heaviness isn’t a sledgehammer of sound. I’d equate them more to a relentless drone and rumble, a repetitive trance-inducing six-string rhythm that’s both highly hypnotic and bluntly bewitching.
And that pretty much describes The Black Angels’ Mayan performance … or at the very least, what I recall from re-experiencing these amateur footage selections from long ago. And with a little bit of ramp up and reacquaintance, I can also confidently state that this was the era of “The Death March Tour,” notably marked by the band’s fifth studio album “Death Song,” from which they performed a number of tracks.
It would seem that I only captured a couple excerpts from this release, a partial selection of the show’s critical capitalistic opening grinder “Currency,” as well as a fuller chunk from the bayou blues ripping rock of “Hunt Me Down.”
Check ’em out …
The Black Angels perform “Currency” at the Mayan Theatre on 10.18.17.
The Black Angels perform “Hunt Me Down” at the Mayan Theatre on 10.18.17.
The Black Angels have been around since ’04, so there’s plenty of acidic liquid lava tunes to smear and splatter their aural blottered setlist. One of their first tracks I ever heard (at least, I think it was) from this Texas five-piece was “Bad Vibrations” from the ’10 album “Phosphene Dream.” It’s got this trippy eye-teasing duo-tone striped cover that makes your eyes go buggo. I think that’s why I initially took notice, when I encountered it a record store. Yeah, that was back when I’d buy music sight unseen and sound unheard.
Anyway, at the time, “Bad Vibrations” was just the sort of atypical psychedelic rock I was seeking. It possessed this forceful, dirge-like drive, which came across as slightly ominous and passively sinister, yet exotically, electrically charged with coarse intensity and buzzed ferocity. It was a perfect antithesis to paisley spectrums and hallucinatory vibrancy … which I should add, I also enjoy immensely. I just think, back then, I was looking for a counter point of view, a different door of perception.
“Bad Vibrations” fits the bill. And from the clip below, I’d say it still works its dark magic today.
The Black Angels perform “Bad Vibrations” at the Mayan Theatre on 10.18.17.
Dating back to their ’06 debut “Passover,” the single “Black Grease” sets an earlier, grimier, grungier template of the same caustic feedback formula. This one’s thick and soupy in the six-string sludge, swirling in a vivid grayscale of murky noise and feedbacked meander. It’s a relevant touchstone to their psychedelic source – which, if we’re being honest, probably dates all the way back to their origin namesake, the Velvet Underground’s ’67 single “The Black Angel’s Death Song.” You’ve got the band’s name, and latest LP, all rolled into one.
The Black Angels perform “Black Grease” at the Mayan Theatre on 10.18.17.
Another early entry from “Passover,” the drone-infused march of “The Sniper at the Gates of Heaven” treads in similar shaded steps, fuzzed and buzzed with plenty of thick white -noised jams and recoiled riffs. Plus, it’s title alone lets you know this ain’t double rainbows and acid hippy sunshine.
The Black Angels perform “The Sniper at the Gates of Heaven” at the Mayan Theatre on 10.18.17.
Next up is “You on the Run” from their sophomore ’08 release “Directions to See a Ghost,” which builds on that seared bedrock of perpetual echo and persistent brawl with a dense jam-packed riffing of dirt and grime blues. At least, that’s what comes to mind when I hear it.
The Black Angels perform “You on the Run” at the Mayan Theatre on 10.18.17.
Lastly, I’ve got another “Passover” classic to close out their set, as well as close out this post, titled “Young Men Dead.” It’s an explosive number, worthy of a finisher, blasted with monochromatic spectrums of epileptic strobes, magnified by through-the-looking-glass checkerboard feedback and molten magma melody.
The Black Angels perform “Young Men Dead” at the Mayan Theatre on 10.18.17.
That’s all I’ve got on The Black Angels’ show at the Mayan from Oct. of ’17. I’m sure these guys will be back, once humanity pulls itself back from the brink of Covid-induced extinction … whenever that is.
In the meantime, this will have to do. Of course, if you like what you’ve seen and experienced here, you can always scour the internet for more recent performances, like last year’s Desert Daze stint, which I unfortunately missed, or one of their Levitation (formerly Austin Psych Fest) appearances.
As a side bar, it’s worth noting that members Alex Mass (vocalist/bass) and Christian Bland (guitar) founded that latter hometown fest back in ’08, through their aptly named label The Reverberation Appreciation Society. They’ve continued to curate the line-up ever since.
Finally, here’s The Black Angels’ setlist from their Mayan appearance of “The Death March Tour.” It’s fairly accurate, from what I’ve been able to recollect, as well as verify from the web. If I learn otherwise, I will revise and update.
Until the next round …