The evening kicked off with openers Sleepy Sun, a young, shaggy-haired Californian five-piece featuring crazily distorted harmonica and percussive use of a beer bottle (something we’ve all tried, but rarely excelled at). Trippy and bluesy, the band certainly lives up to their geographical heritage as part of the next wave of psychedelic rock. Bonus points: lead singer Bret Constantino strutting around the stage like a high-flying Robert Plant. Some said contrived; I say awesome.
And Sleepy Sun was only the beginning. The Black Angels took the stage to cheers and whoops before playing a single note. The crowd was closely-packed and sweaty; there was much angry jostling toward the front of the stage (your intrepid reporter and her companion took a couple of elbows to the head by rowdy, fratalicious giants. Not cool, bra). Also towards the front were some fantastically dedicated, soaking-wet head bangers. Fun for everyone!
In all seriousness: The Black Angels rock. And I’m not using that term loosely. The band rocks, rolls, rollicks and revels. Like their openers, the Black Angels are bluesy and psychedelic, but the Angels have a harder edge to them, honed to razor-sharpness by Alex Maas’ high vocals droning detachedly over dark rock licks. Nasal and languid can be beautiful things, “Bad Vibrations” being a key example. This track off of 2010’s Phosphene Dream marked the point where the set picked up speed, accelerating the crowd speedily toward frenzy, accentuated by Maas’ choicely placed shouts.
Underlying Maas’ distinctive vocals, the Black Angels have a good, classic rock and roll setup: solid, grungy-blues guitars, driving bass and a super-badass drummer Stephanie Bailey (like Kim Pine but so. much. cooler.). But the band avoids falling into played-out tropes. The bass is an often-neglected, sometimes sub-par element of many bands. But the bass lines here are anything but tired, and give the music an ominous quality, like that oddly flickering light in a dilapidated house. Guitars lean heavily on 1960s for inspiration without becoming some pale shadow of what rock used to be. Instead, they range from classic progressions to insistent, stripped-down repetitions, building to cacophonous experiments in noise. The keys, like almost everything else, are dark and psychedelic. I’m not sure how Bailey holds down the beat through all this madness, but she does it- gloriously. The psychedelic mood is underscored by the modish, black-and-white backdrop and trippy strobe lights of the stage show. Again, the Black Angel’s post-rock sensibilities keep this set pieces from being mere clichés.
As expected, the set drew heavily from Phosphene Dream, notably the catchy “Telephone.” Favorites from Directions to See a Ghost (2008), and to a lesser extent, Passover (2006) also made appearances (“You in Color” is especially great live).
So kids, let this be a lesson: rock and roll is not dead. Buy your Black Angels tickets early. And watch your elbows.