It was an all-black psychedelic rock affair at Bowery Ballroom last Tuesday night. Trance-inducing rock bands the Black Angels and Black Mountain teamed up for their fall tour, alternating head line duties and laying down enough consciousness-expanding tunes for a crowd of Woodstock-ready proportions.
The Black Angels took opening duties at Bowery, whereas Black Mountain opened up during the next evening's second NYC date at Music Hall of Williamsburg. The crowd was buzzing right away with anticipation for Austin, Texas psych rockers The Black Angels. As soon as the band took the stage with ominous opener “You on the Run” from their 2008 record Directions to See a Ghost, the numerous sweet smells of a certain illegal substance battled the cool, stagnant air for supremacy.
Let's face it, the Angel's multi-layered, '60s-ready rock, lends itself to some mind-altering drugs. But even if you listened to the Angels set straight, the five-piece band's musical expertise was downright transfixing. Each song segued into the next with the help of an electronic feedback sound; the wiry vibration drew out the tension until the band would explode into expansive sound. The Angels especially killed it with tracks off their most recent record Phosphene Dream.
Front man Alex Maas' piercing voice stabbed through each sonically heavy song with a quiet yet confident poise. “Bad Vibrations” was a reverb-heavy and hazy rock out, whereas “Telephone” and “Yellow Elevator” were distinctly groovy, with Maas sometimes lightly shaking a pair of maracas for added sonic bombast.
The new album material distinctly marked a separation between older songs like “Bloodhounds on my Trail” and “Black Grease"; the band seems to be going in a new musical direction. On hybrid folk rock/psychedelic track “True Believers,” Black Mountain's Stephen McBean joined the Angels onstage to help out with guitar, whereas bassist Nate Ryan occasionally joined drummer Stephanie Bailey by pounding steadily on a separate free drum. The Angels drew a nice balance between all three of their records, but the new material provided the band with a melodious touch; a certain new light piercing through the usual gloom. The crowd responded accordingly with some heavy head-nodding and the occasional crowd surf.
Indie metal stalwarts Black Mountain took the stage after an odd intro of encasing the room in darkness and blasting mind-numbing choral music. Lead by the scraggly, experimental musical mastermind McBean, these Canadian rockers are downright intense live. Alternating lyrics between McBean and Amber Webb, Black Mountain drew from all three of their albums, including the recently released Wilderness Heart.
Fan favorite “Druganaut” boasted some face-meltingly awesome guitar work by McBean, with Webb saucily slapping the tambourine in time. The guitar riffs on “Rollercoaster” may have sounded like they belonged in Iron Maiden's repertoire, but the indie intense lyrics and blend between Webb and McBean's emotional vocal work are all classic Black Mountain. Both “Set Us Free” and “Tyrants,” built from quieter, almost sexily despondent drums and lyrical melodies, to pounding guitar riffs and heavy metal influence.
Much of the crowd cleared out during Black Mountain's set, seeming to prefer the slightly more upbeat, head nodding material from the Black Angels. While Black Mountain's fervent and tension-filled indie metal is genius rock music, live, it became almost a little too exhausting to take in. Maybe it was that, or maybe it was the fact that the drug addled crowd were just overtaken by a severe case of the munchies. Either way, the night was filled with enough heavy and heated rock to leave your ears ringing and your bones shaking—a sure sign of a good time.