The Black Angels
With Roky Erickson & the Hounds of Baskerville and the Golden Animals
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Monday, February 3, 2014
Two generations of Texas psych-rockers brought their own unique twists on that distinctive sound to First Avenue on Monday night. The Black Angels' colorful, psychedelic light show complimented their experimental, career-spanning 90-minute performance, but Roky Erickson's first-ever Minnesota show proved more memorable. The legendary 13th Floor Elevators co-founder's stirring set was heavy on hits from his illustrious past and productive present.
Erickson was supported by the Hounds of Baskerville, a five-piece backing band which included his son Jegar on backing vocals and harmonica. The group, which featured a scorching guitarist and Kaylie Bernhardt on keys, let Roky lead the way through psych-fueled classics like "Cold Night For Alligators," a rocking version of "John Lawman," and a rollicking run through of "Tried to Hide." But the set really took off with "Fire Engine," which had a poppy pulse that gradually gave way to a discordant reverb-drenched finish.
Erickson clearly was in good spirits all night long, lifting his arms in triumph after a particularly good number, while smiling and thanking the crowd at different points in the show. A series of modern rock bands (Okkervil River and the Black Angels being just two) have embraced and encouraged the notoriously reclusive Erickson to share his musical gifts with a new generation of fans, and he truly looked at home on the First Avenue stage.
A sprawling, bluesy take of "Slip Inside This House" found the band in high gear, as Erickson traded off exploratory guitar solos during the song's fitful, untamed outro. The trippy 13th Floor Elevators' classic, "Kingdom of Heaven" was given a moody, modern reworking, led by Erickson's sanguine vocals and '60s-drenched guitar riffs. "Oh yeah, oh yeah!" Erickson exclaimed after the band brought the track to a haunting end, knowing that they had just hit on a good groove.
The set kept rolling with a flurry of tracks from the 1966 classic, The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, including "Roller Coaster," and "Reverberation." A raucous rendition of "Two Headed Dog" easily ignited both the band and the crowd, before the set suitably came to an end with Erickson's most famous number, "You're Gonna Miss Me." The audience was filled with smiling faces lost in the anthem's instantly recognizable groove. After a brief wave to the adoring crowd, Erickson and the band were off as chants of "Roky! Roky!" rang through the club. It didn't bring him back out for the encore, but I'm sure it warmed his heart on this cold February night.[page]
The Black Angels were put in a tough spot of having to try and top that performance, but frontman Alex Mass casually deflected some of that pressure as he introduced the group, "We're the Black Angels from Austin, Texas. We're going to play a few songs for you." The set started with the slow burning "Mission District," which gradually blossomed into a cacophony of gritty, guitar-fueled fury. After a sinister sounding "Evil Things," Mass thanked both Roky Erickson and the evening's other openers, the Golden Animals, saying affectionately, "This is a dream tour for us. It's an honor to play with them."
The group seemed inspired to match the sprawling quality of Erickson's imaginative opening set, so the pulsating "Entrance Song," "Don't Play With Guns," and an impassioned "Indigo Meadow" all had an expansive edge to them, augmented by a rainbow of psychedelic colors which washed over the band and the spartan stage set up. The Black Angels can effortlessly drift from leisurely psych-rock riffs into a full blown Black Sabbath-like dissonance, and they had their feet loosely planted in both creative worlds throughout.
Even when the set lagged at points, the visuals were so vivid and arresting that it breathed life into the music itself. "Yellow Elevator #2" was reminiscent of Warhol's drug-fueled factory where the scene was the sound, and there was an artfulness in every nuance. The band's images were reflected colorfully in the backdrop, like so many of Andy's polychromatic portraits, while the song's outro had a distinctive Sgt. Pepper's-like experimentalism to it. A thunderous version of "Black Grease" proved to be one of the standouts of the set, which flowed fluidly into the psych-garage charms of "Love Me Forever" and "Telephone," which again sounded like the Beatles filtered through 50 years of sonic dissonance and increasingly harder drugs.
"You On the Run" contained a touching riff on the Dixie Cups' classic, "Chapel of Love," before dissolving into a wall of distortion. The main set stormed to a close with potent versions of "Better Off Alone" and "Broken Soldier," before guitarist Christian Bland addressed the crowd. "55 years ago, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper died. This next song is for them." And with that, the band tore into "Young Men Dead" that brought the set to a blistering end.
As applause continued to ring out in the club, Mass returned alone and delivered an effects-laden take on "Ronettes" that was textured and tender. The band gradually joined him, and the group must have been feeling quite at home at this point, as they offered up a brand new song that featured a dynamic, modern twist on the classic surf-rock sound. The encore continued with a sweeping version of "Snake In The Grass" that found the entire band adding their own distinctive layer of noise.
The show ended with a simmering version of "Bad Vibrations," which was built upon an ominous tension that eventually released in a glorious wall of sound that restlessly washed over us all. Psych-rock has certainly evolved over the years, but on Monday night at First Avenue, two bands proved that it still has plenty of space to grow and holds an untamed power that can captivate a crowd.
Personal Bias: I'm a longtime Black Angels fan who hasn't been able to see the band the last few times they have come through town. And the fact that they were touring with Roky Erickson made this a can't miss show for me.
The Crowd: A near full-house comprised of plenty of music scene veterans who were there to see Roky, and younger fans there to see the Black Angels. The show clearly had a lot of crossover appeal for fans of different generations.
Overheard In The Crowd: "This light show is making me feel more wasted than I am."
Roky Erickson's Setlist:
Cold Night For Alligators
Tried To Hide
I've Got Levitation
She Lives (In A Time Of Her Own)
Slip Inside This House
Kingdom of Heaven
Two Headed Dog
You're Gonna Miss Me
The Black Angels' Setist:
Don't Play With Guns
Yellow Elevator #2
Love Me Forever
You On The Run/Chapel Of Love
I Hear Colors
Better Off Alone
Young Men Dead
Snake In The Grass