Black Angels Trip Out at Union Transfer
Austin psychedelic rockers The Black Angels create a sound that weaves joy and darkness layered under waves of reverb and shuddering tremolo guitar. That sound was heard in full hallucinogenic effect last night at Union Transfer in Philadelphia. Playing behind their new CD, Indigo Meadow, the band essayed all of that album as well as much of their previous CD, Phosphene Dream. Indigo Meadow is a more stripped down, rocked-out album than the more paisley patterned Phosphene Dream, but live those songs fit right in with repeated, distorted hypnotic guitar patterns drenched in echo from Christian Bland, doubled up alternately by Kyle Hunt and Rishi Dhir, that buoys up the nasal wail of lead singer Alex Maas. All of it is held together by Stephanie Bailey’s rock-the-Rock-of-Gibraltar drums. She may be one of the hardest hitting, and locked down drummers in rock.
Indigo Meadow is an album full of songs about love relationships that might be most kindly characterized as ambivalent, if not outright antagonistic. The title track laments a woman who “likes a hell of a show.” “Evil Things” brings out the Heavy Metal side of the band with the grinding, “Iron Man” riffing as Maas sings of his love interest, “We were both evil, doing evil things” and “Love is your gun,” a particularly fatalistic approach to romance to be sure. A similar metaphor emerges on “Don’t Play with Guns.” Even on a song like “Love Me Forever” Maas sings that chorus more like it’s a prison sentence than a plea.
That darkness is not alleviated in other songs like “Holland,” about misadventures in Amsterdam, or the anti-war songs as psychological metaphor on “War on Holiday” and “Broken Soldier” both of which confront fear and uncertainty.
Their musical references were always more psych-garage rock than late sixties flower pop or San Franciso idylls. Even though Pink Floyd asides always leak through the distorted haze, the vintage Farfisa and Reem electric organs signal their lineage in ? and the Mysterians, The Seeds and the Nuggets anthology.
In concert, The Black Angels immerse you in these songs. They’ve upgraded their light show with a bigger screen and multi-layered panels that envelope the band within the op-art mirror image patterns they favor. It reflects their shimmering, driving sound where Maas’ voice is barely intelligible within the web of reverb and slap-back echo he uses on almost every song. While his singing is clear on their recordings, in concert he merges, sometimes incoherently, with the ricocheting guitars, becoming an instrumental effect more than a lyric vehicle. He should probably dial down the reverb in concert, especially in live room like Union Transfer.
They played several tracks off of Phosphene Dream. “Entrance Song” drove down the endless hallucinogenic highway and “Bad Vibrations” still reverberates. It was great to see them bring the coda back on “Yellow Elevator #2,” which they’d dropped in their last two Philadelphia performances. You need an uplifting chorus of illumination sometimes.
In their early days, The Black Angels stretched out quite a bit more on tracks like “Snake in the Grass” and “Never/Ever. ” But these were unformed works that lacked a propulsive center. Now that their song-writing skills are more finely honed, I’d like to see them bring that discipline to more improvised rave-ups, to use an old 60’s expression.
The Black Angels take you out of this world.
~John Diliberto ((( echoes )))
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