The Black Angels, Black Mountain Warehouse Live November 17, 2010
Some music is so evocative and overwhelming it can cause you to flash back to before you were even born. Not all of it - when a Mozart symphony comes on the radio, you're not suddenly rubbing shoulders with Emperor Joseph II in 18th-century Vienna, and hearing Stephen Foster's "Swanee River" probably doesn't trigger an impulse to take cover from the flying cannonballs at Chickamauga.
But Wednesday night at Warehouse Live, you could practically smell the Napalm. As the Black Angels let fly one necromantic, woozy tone poem after another, Aftermath kept expecting Oliver Stone to ask the Studio crowd to step aside so his cameras could get a better shot.
Bad things are afoot in the Angels' music, amid the knotty and sprawling guitars, echo-chamber vocals and primally pulsating bass and drums. The feeling of foreboding is as thick as a San Francisco fog, and it never stops moving - imagine being chased through a strobe-lit hall of mirrors with Jim Morrison beckoning on one side and Ian Curtis on the other and you're close.
The Angels' Wednesday-night seance of overheated blues and twisted pop, punctuated by Pete Townshend-esque power chords, turned garage-rock into morgue-rock, chasing the ghosts of "Bloodhounds on My Trail," "Bad Vibrations" and "Vietnam" with a weather machine full of effects and a keen ear for melody that canceled out some of the nightmares around the corner. "Black Grease," from the Angels' 2006 debut Passover, came as a curtain of dread, but "Telephone," from new album Phosphene Dream, is a worthy successor to the Electric Prunes' "I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night."
For all its minor-key darkness (with the odd major chord here and there) and overwhelming drone, the Angels' catalog is custom-built for dancing. It moves. Not in the Shindig! sense, though - during "Yellow Elevator No. 2" and "Better Off Alone," the people Aftermath spied gyrating to the music, and there were several, seemed more like they were possessed.
It was closer to Poe's The Masque of the Red Death filtered through both Nuggets box sets: A grand ball of the macabre that moved quickly enough to keep the reaper at bay. Or maybe we just had too much to dream last night.
The Angels' Canadian brothers and sister in arms, Vancouver's Black Mountain, were as shaggy and free-form as their Austin-based counterparts, albeit under a flag emblazoned with a giant pot leaf rather than a skull and crossbones. Black Mountain came out raging with "Wilderness Heart" and the Sabbath-esque "Let Spirits Ride" before slipping down an acoustic rabbit hole and closing with a strong whiff of psychedelic Motown (think the Temps' "Ball of Confusion") on "Don't Run Our Hearts Around."
In Wednesday's psychedelic jungle, Black Mountain furnished the foliage and the Black Angels supplied the shrapnel.
Personal Bias: Like they say, if you can remember the '60s, you weren't there.
The Crowd: Not quite as stoner-riffic as you might imagine, but lots of bearded boys and skirts and stockings. And a cluster of older folks grooving along the back wall who were probably family members - some of the Angels are from the Houston area.
Overheard In the Crowd (during Black Mountain): "Jefferson Airplane, man!"
Random Notebook Dump: Stare at the album artwork for any of the Angels' three LPs - Passover, Instructions to See a Ghost and Phosphene Dream - long enough, stoned or not, and you'll see the elephant.
BLACK MOUNTAIN SET LIST
Wilderness Heart Let Spirits Ride Angels Wucan Tyrants Buried By the Blues Radiant Hearts Old Fangs Roller Coaster Queens Will Play Stormy High Don't Run Our Hearts Around
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BLACK ANGELS SET LIST
You On the Run Bloodhounds On My Trail Bad Vibrations Entrance Song Sniper At the Gates of Heaven The Sniper Haunting at 1300 McKinley Yellow Elevator No. 2 Black Grease Mission District Science Killer Vietnam Better Off Alone Phosphene Dream Telephone
True Believers Manipulation Young Men Dead