The Black Angels | Boulder Theater | 5/10/2013 | Review
Long heralded and firmly entrenched as the psychedelic stalwarts of Austin, Texas, The Black Angels run on a reputation of mysticism that has them surrounded by dark, fuzzy guitar riffs and distorted vocals. Not adhering to conventions of modern rock, though grappling with elements of surf and late sixties acid rock, they’ve carved out their own slice of the Indie music scene. Regarded as musical savants in the towns and cities of America that really “get it,” the rest of the nation is finally catching up.
Never missing a chance to stir the pot in Colorado, the Black Angels poured over Boulder like black mist hiding an oncoming rain. With them came a legion of skinny jeans, facial piercings, ruby red lipstick, leather jackets and sneering smiles. A few years removed from playing smaller capacity shows at The Fox Theatre, the crowd filled the brick paved sidewalk under the marquee of the Boulder Theater, illuminated by the wailing repetition of ambulance lights.
Inside the theater, patrons wandered in a snake trance to the bar and bathrooms. Those lugging their boots up the stairs to balcony seating had eyes that seemed to be growing as they absorbed light, and those on the floor sections swayed to the hypnotic groove slithering out of the hanging speakers. The stage was whitewashed before the band came on, with a backdrop that set the scene for a night of mind-altering projections. Large white screens covered their amps, and looked like disjointed doors. The backdrop came to life early with Acid Test-era projections of water, film splicing, and erratic strobe lights, something that seemed right out Tom Wolfe’s glimpse into late sixties San Francisco and the drugs, music and culture that defined the era. A musical introduction accompanied the slow traipse of the band onto the stage, and before anybody finished cheering, the band was eclipsed by darkness as they started up the engines and left the station with moaning lyrics and a bleeding, distorted fuzz over all their instruments.
The quintet is comprised of guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards, but the endless array of sounds far surpasses the generic mold of a traditional band. The immediate haunted fuzz riffs from guitarist Christian Bland enveloped the crowd with the Angels’ trademark sound, and the band launched into their set as lead singer and bassist Alex Maas crooned into his microphone that sounds completely distorted, making his voice achieve the gothic quality Bland has found in his tones and pedals.
I Hear Colors “Chromaesthesia) blurred out of the dark intro with a garage rock sound in the vein of the White Stripes and the connection is strengthened by the peppermint swirling visuals projected behind them. Circus colors illuminated the stage and the bands’ shadows grew over them while they performed what felt like some occult trial by fire. The surf/garage conceptual rock shadowed in darkness and deeper meaning unfolded, eventually giving way to the single from their newest album, Don’t Play With Guns. This track has all of the elements that make the Black Angels who they are, but it’s a little more of a reach into the alternative rock and radio friendly category. The lyrics still have the historical importance and dark outlook that the majority of their songs do, and the unmistakable guitar accompanied by the howling church organ more than holds its own, but I can’t help but feel a departure of sorts from their norm.
What bothered me most about the performance was the stop on a dime mentality. While certain songs were substantially extended, others abruptly came to an end with no clear reason. I can understand the desire not to segue songs into one another, but why not let the strangeness fill every nook of the audience’s heads with their eerie, incandescent sound. Short breaks between songs to swap instruments seemed to leave the crowd in a lull, looking around in a state of uncertain curiosity, but it was worthwhile seeing guitarist Nate Ryan and keyboardist Kyle Hunt swapping instruments along with Maas.
Bland and drummer Stephanie Bailey were the only two to retain control over a single instrument for the duration of the show, and while it was clear that they mastered the two positions, it was cool to see the rest of the band fully capable of handling any instrument on any song. It kept things refreshing, especially for the band, which plays similar sets and needs to keep the energy up.
Songs like Yellow Elevator #2, Bad Vibrations, and Black isn’t Black highlighted the rest of their set, which featured a good amount of material spaced out across all of their albums. Besides the clear frustration with the on-stage guitar tech, the show seemed to go off without a hitch, though not without a hiccup. The fuzz guitar and psychedelic swing began to fall on tired ears by the end due to the semi repetitive nature of the material, and the likelihood that the University of Colorado commencement ceremony had worn down some of the concert goers.
The band is clearly the torchbearer for a new generation of psychedelic rock, and their mystifying darkness casts spells upon listeners who have trouble finding bands to relate them to without going back some decades ago. Acid rock is evidently alive and well, you just have to know where to find it.