Austin's Black Angels make widescreen psychedelic noise without sounding dated.
Austin's Black Angels make widescreen psychedelic noise without sounding dated.
Photo by Violeta Alvarez

The Black Angels and Car Seat Headrest Play to a Nearly Empty House of Blues

The Black Angels, Car Seat Headrest
House of Blues
October 8, 2017

Touring in support of their 2017 release, Death Song, Austin’s psychedelic darlings Black Angels played to a sparse crowd Sunday night at House of Blues. Although they were here less than six months ago, it's still a  shame to see such a talented group play for such a light crowd.

Only five months have passed since the group's show at White Oak Music Hall, one likely explanation for the light turnout. Now, chances are we won’t see them again until 2018 — if we’re lucky. Either way, despite the spotty audience, the band played a set of 13 songs to loyal fans. With mandatory trippy light show, maracas, noise makers and plenty of distortion, Black Angels played the best cuts from their latest album along with favorites spanning their catalog.

Death Song pays homage to the 1967 Velvet Underground track by the same name, a song that seemingly ran words together for the sounds they made when sung together. Indeed, the Angels give much appreciation to arguably rock’s greatest decade.

Taking elements that made the genre famous, Black Angels make widescreen psychedelic noise without sounding dated. From mind-expanding melodies, dreamy lyricism and an almost indistinguishable wall of sound, The Black Angels create a buzzy soundscape without the lengthy, audience-taxing solos usually heard from similar bands.

These are the kind of musicians who blend into the music; there’s no overpowering rock-star personalities or celebrity cult following here. Each member leans into the song and that collective outpouring is the performance. Either singularly cerebral or wholly collaborative, the set might inspire some extracurricular drug use — like we smelled in the crowd — but onstage the music was deeply reflective for those playing it.

Seattle's Car Seat Headrest's set teemed with emotion but lacked any sentimentality.
Seattle's Car Seat Headrest's set teemed with emotion but lacked any sentimentality.
Photo by Violeta Alvarez

Openers and indie favorites Car Seat Headrest played an incredibly powerful set. Teeming with emotion, yet without sentimentality, the young alt-shoegazers gave the kind of rock performance that turns passive listeners into fans. Sharply focused lead singer Will Toledo conducted the band through a thoroughly tight and crisp set of jarring breakdowns and bassy, mumbling vocals that were strangely and comfortably melodic.

Formed in 2010 and with already 12 albums in their back pocket, ten of them self-released no less, Headrest are no strangers to the DIY work ethic. Making as much abundantly clear, Toledo even unplugged his amp and began rolling up guitar cables and packing up before the last song had finished. Without even a ‘Thanks for coming out, Houston!’ he was simply done.

Whether he's a neat freak for tidying up the stage or was just in a rush to clear out for the headliners — or just had a strong distaste for the tiny Houston audience —  we will never know. Despite shouts from fans literally just a few feet away for an encore, Toledo let the applause go unacknowledged. At that point, drummer Andrew Katz said into his microphone, “Thanks, Houston. You’ve been a great audience.” Finally, Toledo gave a small wave and cleared the stage.

It’s hard to love a band that doesn’t reciprocate appreciation or even remotely engage the audience. Performance is a conversation between observer and performer. For both bands, perhaps that engagement depended on a larger, louder crowd. Unfortunately, neither of those things occurred last night. Instead, what could have been a rousing show was more like a muscle-memory performance to a bone-thin crowd.

There’s no one to blame when these things happen. People are less likely to attend shows on a school/work night, and some shows on a tour feel like time-clock punchers. Last night’s show may have lacked theatrical magic, but at least the music never suffered. For that, it was worth it.

The Black Angels are the sort of musicians who thoroughly blend into the music.
The Black Angels are the sort of musicians who thoroughly blend into the music.
Photo by Violeta Alvarez

Overheard In the Crowd: “Dude. Fix the fucking escalators already!” (Agreed.)

Random Notebook Dump: Whoever is building the high rise now blocking the view of Toyota Center and East Downtown from the smoking porch is our least favorite developer in Houston.

BLACK ANGELS SET LIST
Entrance Song
Medicine
I’d Kill for Her
Bad Vibrations
The Prodigal Sun
I Dreamt
Science Killer
Black Grease
Grab As Much (As You Can)
Half Believing
Currency
You on the Moon
Comanche Moon

Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that The Black Angels' last Houston performance was August of 2016.

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