The Black Angels at the Fine Line, 10/17/11

The Black Angels at the Fine Line, 10/17/11
The Black Angels

Black Angels with Dead Meadow and Spindrift

October 17, 2011
Fine Line Music Cafe, Minneapolis

It was an eerie dream-like night of cinematic psychedelia as the Black Angels, Dead Meadow, and Spindrift, three of the more fantastic contemporary psychedelic bands in the U.S., converged on the Fine Line stage. "It's like a family, the three of us traveling and playing together," noted a bandmember's sister, managing merch.

Spindrift's spaghetti-western brand of psychedelic rock evoked Sergio Leone-esque cinematic images of desertscapes desolate except for small shanty towns, the occasional gun showdown and cowboy song and yelps. They started with a heavy lo-fi rumble and the Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra-esque vocals of Kirpatrick Thomas and Sasha Vallely, who also played organ and Native American flute. Their third song featured a train beat with a "Riders in the Sky" melody sweeping through. They steadily built heavy layers, with organ, tambourines, and Western-tinged psychedelic guitar, with drums rolling like prairie thunder. They performed songs like you'd hear perhaps in Nick Cave's "The Proposition" if he hadn't provided the soundtrack -- and actually Spindrift's music did inspire a Western motion picture, "The Legend of God's Gun." Their set grew increasingly haunting throughout, the atmosphere full of tension like the calm before the storm, moving into to a heavy thunderstorm vibe with pounding drums, crashes and pummeling of guitar riffs. Then it slowed and cleared to a steady Native American rhythm and pace, with heavy death rattles, then actual Native American singing, building into the thunderous musical equivalent of a herd of horses. It was an amazing, dark, show the likes of which I've never heard nor seen. One listener noted: "It sounded like people in the audience were going to slowly pull out their revolvers and have a showdown."

Dead Meadow, formed in 1998 in D. C., was a meeting of classic '70s rock and '60s psychedelia. The long slow scintillating Black Sabbath-like metal psych was produced amazingly by only three members - Jason Simon (vocals/guitar), Steve Kille (bass, sitar) and Mark Laughlin (drums). The drone-heavy stoner rock of Dead Meadow felt like a wool blanket over us, creating a sort of downer vibe.

The Black Angels, a psychedelic rock band from Austin, Texas formed in 2004, take their name from a Velvet Underground song, "The Black Angels Death Song." They took the stage of the now filled Fine Line to high anticipation and applause. I knew within three notes of their first song, "Manipulation," this would be one of the most mindblowing shows I'd ever seen. They started with a creepy, intense lo-fi vibe, difficult to understand lyrics at first, with a psychedelic-era Beatles vocal chorus and Eastern rhythms. They performed dirge-like songs with '60s-era organs and guitar, a harmonium by Christian Bland, Brian Jonestown Massacre-esque wa-wa, and hypnotic primal rhythms on drums by Stephanie Bailey. They played several songs from their new propulsive hip-shaking Phosphene Dream, a record released in 2010, produced and mixed by Dave Sardy (Oasis, Wolfmother, Black Mountain).

Song "Black Grease" made me feel like I was in an opium den. The music was close, inside my head, under my skin and in my hips. Someone next to me noted, "You just wanna get real sexy to this!" It unwound as a slow, scintillating song with bone-shaker rattles and harmonies, people boogying and dancing, shaking their hips and pumping their fists. The Black Angels did a fantastic transition in "Bad Vibrations" moving from slow dirge into a hard, fast, pulsating, Velvet Underground-esque vibe that propelled the audience into screams of release.

Throughout the show, crazy-beautiful, phantasmagorical psychedelic imagery and patterns pulsed and flashed on the screen behind them alternating between stark monochromatic tones and vivid neon colors, with a blood red and electric blue and lime-green light show and colored fog for mesmerizing effect. "Prodigal Son" began with an organ then a crescendo of long searing guitar wails. For "Young Men, the strobes did a freak-dance over the band and on the screen while the band played with reverb and manipulated vocals. Tribal drums pounded with guitar feedback and more reverb floating beneath the surface, a base of ominously slow guitar and vocals, threaded by guitar wails and slow vibrations, pulsating like sex.

"River of Blood," sounding Vietnam-era '60s, was the most Doors-sounding song - no escaping that there were those moments. This song featured dark dream-like guitar, riveting bullets of percussion and the sound of choppers via the bass with singer Alex Maas' voice echoing plaintively but powerfully.

Oh the layers, dragging me into an exquisite isolation tank. "Haunting at 1300 McKinley," was a more starkly clear, jangledy pop-blues, sounding a little like Black Keys (who they've toured with). The upbeat psychedelic pop song, "Sunday Afternoon," a favorite of mine on Phosphene Dream, sounded highly reminiscent of 13th Floor Elevators. "With your new eyes, turn on your light, let your love flow, leave your ego." Its an encouraging song about letting yourself go and being yourself; you'll have company.

The Black Angels returned to perform an encore after several minutes of insane stomping and chanting by a crowd that refused to let them go in their collective mind. The Black Angels began the first encore "You On the Run," with excellent soaring vocals and screaming guitar. Lead singer Alex Maas' occasional "hoonh!" grunts punctuated the layers complex as the threads of a Persian magic carpet. The overall vibe was heady, dream-like, visually stunning and mind-melting. It was a temporarily transformative experience, a mesmerizing show that seemed simultaneously slow and fast. At the end I wanted to see the show over again, right away.

Critic's Bias: I feel I was born into loving music like this, a child of the '60s and '70s. I love modern psychedelic music, the more authentic sounding the better. I knew after seeing them in full daylight at Mellow Johnnie's bike shop performing a KEXP Seattle showcase at SXSW, that their show replete with the excellent lighting and sound of The Fine Line would be mind-blowing.
The Crowd: Packed to the gills, with most crushed together toward front stage, ages ranging from early 20s to mid-50s, most in their 30s and 40s. A diverse range of cool artistic non-hipster looking people you'd expect at a great psychedelic music concert.
Overheard In The Crowd: Re: The Black Angels, "I like their jam-bandy stuff better than their Doors-y stuff. I mean, they say they're not but the lead's voice is like that sometimes.
Random Notebook Dump: I smell weed, sweat and pheremones all around me.

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