Steve Wilson. On music.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Me, the Black Angels at the Bottleneck, in Back to Rockville, KC Star music blog, thanks to Tim Finn

Review: The Black Angels

Alex Maas of the Black Angels. Photo courtesy of Nate Fors.
Before the Black Angels performance on Saturday night at the Bottleneck in Lawrence they treated an unsuspecting capacity crowd to a rocking history lesson, playing a lengthy set of Bo Diddley sides over the public address system.

Sure, much has been made of the Angels’ Velvet Underground inspirations. They took their name from a track off of the “Velvet Underground and Nico” album, and their logo incorporates an image of Nico. But blasting Diddley was their way of saying that the great drone they so expertly extend predates Lou Reed and company, and where there’s sonic hypnosis, Bo is in the house. 
The Black Angels took the stage to a recording of an address by President John F. Kennedy, speaking before Congress in 1961 and setting forth the goal of placing an American on the moon.

There are many ghosts in the Black Angels music, but none bigger than the decade of the 60s itself. Opening with two tracks from the band‘s debutPassover -- “Bloodhounds on My Trail and “The Sniper at the Gates of Heaven” -- the band established a relentless throb that evoked the Velvets, Doors and the 13th Floor Elevators.

Their third selection, “Sniper” (noted as “new sniper” in their set list), and two more songs from their newest release “Phosphene Dream,” maintained the hypnotic pace while introducing the rich melodic pop vein developed on their third album.  “Haunting at 1300 McKinley" was especially impressive, the band getting on it’s Music Machine/Seeds groove.

The Black Angels swap instruments (guitar, 12-string, bass, various electric keyboards) frequently and with intuitive skill; Nate Ryan’s 12-string work furnished that “All Tomorrow’s Parties” glimmer on certain songs, while Christian Bland’s piercing leads combined Mike Bloomfield blues bite (including some nifty slide work) with Jason Pierce’s (Spaceman 3) searing neo-psychedelia. He drove home the “Lucifer Sam” inspired riff from ”Bad Vibrations” with touch and authority.

Alex Maas, the bearded and capped front man, sang like Roky Erickson wrestling Ozzy to the ground for peeing on the Alamo. His stage presence is commanding without shedding his ‘one of the band’ solidarity. Stephanie Bailey’s drumming drives the band – isolate on her and you can hear how studiously arranged is the band’s menace.

The predominance of songs from “Phosphene Dream,” with their heavier emphasis on pop thrills, provided just the right balance of relief from the dark, two-chord vibe of the band’s early material. “Yellow Elevator” reminded that the Sixties featured sunshine along with apocalypse, that the Doors, no strangers to the dark side, also churned out agreeable ditties like “Take it as it Comes” and “Twentieth Century Fox.”
At the conclusion of the band’s hour-plus set the capacity crowd demanded an encore. The Black Angels obliged with a mini-set, including “Telephone,” perhaps the giddiest number from “Phosphene Dream,” a stone charmer of lysergic dimensions, but jubilantly rooted in jug band music. Throughout the show, Maas and Bland addressed the crowd occasionally, and with a sweetness that humanized their highly stylized dark themes ("Gimme Shelter" on overdrive) the band specializes in.

The Black Angels understand that there’s a balance to be struck between entertainment and what Jim Morrison called “an hour for magic” – an opportunity for both artist and audience to be transported to alternate, even sacred spaces, then brought back drained and satisfied. It’s a neat trick, but one that the Black Angels pull of brilliantly.

Lawrence’s L5 opened the show, showing that plundering the post-Velvet Underground style-book is collegiate sport; referencing VU and “Nuggets” are this generation’s version of the Harry Smith anthology. Evoking the Fall, Orange Juice, and Dream Syndicate (the gamut of post-VU sounds), L5 played with panache; their songs exhibiting real structure and melodic interest.

The Suuns followed them with a set that was long on intros, and short on songs. With singer Brian Shemie sounding like a tune-challenged version of Placebo’s Brian Molko, their Battles-cum-Krautrock ditties mostly demonstrated that “Sister Ray” (oh, those inevitable Velvets references) minus narrative and release is just tension, and that tension without release is dull.

In any event the evening was about the Black Angels. The full house (heavy on dudes) that packed the Bottleneck left buzzing and satisfied.
| Steve Wilson, Special to The Star