The Black Angels, who hail from Austin, Texas, have found a second home in New York City, where fans sold out both the Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan and The Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn for two triumphant headlining Angels shows last weekend.
The band’s popularity, which has taken another leap with last year’s stellar release, The Phosphene Dream, will only be boosted by its current live show, which has become edgier and more intensely psychedelic. Drawing on the darker side of 1960s acid-rock, most notably its Texas forerunners The 13th Floor Elevators, and also acts like The Doors, Love, and even those surly New Yorkers The Velvet Underground (from whose “Black Angel’s Death Song” the band took its name), The Black Angels live are about creating an atmosphere that is simultaneously mind-expanding and darkly unsettling.
This utopian/dystopian duality was evident as the band took the stage while the PA blasted out the Beach Boys’ sunny ‘60s psych-pop hit “Good Vibrations,” only to then launch into their own “Bad Vibrations,” also the lead-off track on The Phosphene Dream, with singer Alex Maas vocally mimicking the electric jug playing made famous by the Elevators’ Tommy Hall.
A Black Angels concert is a murky, hazy, droney barrage of swirling sound from which song structures take shape for a few minutes and then recede, demanding that the listener relax and go with the flow in a Zen-like manner. At the Bowery Ballroom, newer numbers like “The Entrance Song,” “Telephone” and “Haunting At 1300 McKinley” exhibited sharper formal edges and were more concise than earlier efforts. The band deftly evoked the darkly carnival-esque sensibilities of the aforementioned Doors, with Maas’s vocals phrased like Jim Morrison’s, yet often pitched closer to those of another psychedelic ‘60s vet, Neil Young.
On jammier, more amorphous songs from the band’s first two offerings, Passover and Directions To See A Ghost, the powerful rhythms laid down by drummer Stephanie Bailey created a hypnotic spell that enveloped the audience. This was especially the case on the well-received “Science Killer.” The surging, doomy “Young Men Dead,” with its key lyric, “And we can’t live/if we’re too afraid to die,” also brought cheers from the blissed out (well, as blissed out as New Yorkers can get), swaying throng.
By the time the lengthy show ended with “You In Color,” all resistance to the spell of these Black Angels was futile. For the band, the future appears to be very bright—in a darkly trippy, 1960s kind of way, of course. Long may they drone.
1. [“Good Vibrations” introduction] 2. Bad Vibrations
3. Entrance Song
4. The Prodigal Sun
5. The Sniper At The Gates Of Heaven
6. The Sniper
8. Surf City (Revisited)
9. Science Killer
10. Yellow Elevator #2
11. Black Grease
12. You on the Run
14. True Believers
15. Young Men Dead
16. My Boat Is Sinking
17. Bloodhounds On My Trail
18. You In Color