Review: The Black Angels created a psychedelic utopia

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Review: The Black Angels created a psychedelic utopia


Melbourne natives Flyying Colours are up first. They declare their love for the The Black Angels, before wailing, feedback-soaked guitars begin to ring out, demanding the attention of everyone in the now swelling bandroom. Beginning with the dreamy ‘Like You Said’, the band launch into a nine-track set of shoegaze-orientated psychedelia that embraces the best of both genres. From melancholic, nostalgic lows reminiscent of their shoegaze-ian ancestors, to soaring walls of psychedelia, the band has a serious knack for switching from atmospheric to overdrive. Their set is short but sweet.

An optimistic lull overrides the now packed bandroom; roaring musical goodness has been replaced with an excited chatter. Future, if not already, psych-rock royalty The Black Angels are about grace the stage. Their resume is stacking up – five albums deep, their discography is impressive, they’ve started their own psych-fest in their hometown of Austin, not to mention their fling as backing band for original psych-lord Roky Erikson of the 13th Floor Elevators. Does their live show stack up?

The moment has arrived. The Black Angels hit the stage. Getting straight into business they launch into ‘Currency’ from their latest album Death Song. Alex Maas’s vocals cut through the mix, clear and haunting, he urges us to reconsider the lives we live. The bass is crisp, the guitar is weaving – this track has a different element to it live. As the song breathes its final refrain, a punter is heard saying ‘This is something else’. He’s right.

Next up is the seriously dark groove of the appropriately named ‘Bad Vibrations’. The slowed down surf-rock riff is offset by an unsettling keyed ambience, giving a sense of all not being right. Upon later thought perhaps it’s the perfect modern antithesis of a similarly named ‘60s psych-rock hit. The band continue to traverse through their discography weaving new tracks like ‘I dreamt’ and the twisted ‘I’d Kill for Her’ between old favourites like ‘Sniper At The Gates of Heaven’.

New track ‘Still half believing’, the closest thing to a ballad The Black Angels have, transfers beautifully in the live setting. Slow and brooding, the visuals of the thus far criminally undermentioned Mustachio Light Show turn to psychedelic interstellar lights, like moths to a flame, we’re captivated. The reverb and delay soaked opening riff of ‘You on the run’ earns instant frenzy.

There’s a hypnotic cult-like sense about The Black Angels rhythm. It’s constant. It draws you in. Some simply stare, others sway, a few are overcome by swirling guitar and keys, the groove of the bass and tambourine-infused drum back-beat, launching into full-on Jim Morrison-esque spiritual antics. The only ones not fully enthralled in the aural cult are those weaving through the masses trying not spill an ounce of the golden liquid within their pints.

The band close out with another fan-favourite ‘Manipulation’. The stage goes dark, lights begin to shine, and hearts begin to drop. Perhaps their not returning for the age-old a-given encore. The performance was after-all workmanlike, always straight to the point, perhaps they have no time for these antics. Nope, they’re back. They launch into ‘Death March’ followed by the bluesy ‘Blood Hounds On My Trail’ there’s one last frenzy for ‘Young Men Dead’. Now it really is over, back to reality. Back to the twisted world Maas described in their opening song.

‘Psych rock’ is a pretty loosely used term nowadays, there’s an army of bands claiming to march under its banner, some perhaps march by association of name only, others joined to ride the wave. The Black Angels are not one of those bands. They ooze seriously original psych-rock goodness, and they were doing it before it re-emerged to a wider audience. They’re old, but new, they’ve built on the ‘60s psych scene, rather than re-treading it. Their live show is a testament to this – you can’t help but feel you’re lucky to live in the era of The Black Angels prime.


Highlight: Don’t make me pick.

Lowlight: How long till they come back?

Crowd Favourite: ‘Young men dead’ and ‘You on the run’.