Posted by: pop-break | April 25, 2011

Pop-Break Live: The Black Angels

pop-break gets a little psychedelic in New York City …

Words by Bill Bodkin | Photos by David William Simpson

The lights went out in The Bowery Ballroom in New York on a cold and bitter Friday night in April. A packed house stood in the dark, abuzz in anticipation. Then a single spotlight hit the “magic eye” like backdrop of the stage, a dissonant drone emanated from a stand-up organ and a singer, hat pulled over his eyes, grabbed the mic. Within seconds of his voice hitting the microphone, the band joined in and The Bowery was transformed into the psychedelic palace The Black Angels.

Heading into the show, my photographer Dave, a U.K. import and psych -ock guide for the evening, told me, “Mate, do not do any research or listen to any songs from the band before the show, I want you to be surprised.” Heading the warning of my well-traveled musical friend, this writer made zero inquiries into The Black Angels — and it was the right call. From Jump Street, The Black Angels blew me away. Lead singer Alex Maas, with his highly unique, nasal and epic vocals seemed to be channeling Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick (think “Free Your Mind” Slick, not “We Built This City” Slick]. His voice had the same rich, grand scope of Slick’s voice, along with the same psychedelic seductiveness.

But The Black Angels are not all about white rabbits and freeing your mind — these cats know how to jam. Hailing from Austin, Texas, the spirit of that down-and-dirty blues-tinged rock ‘n’ roll has been woven into their DNA. The Black Angels can bring that heavy, growling sound, the kind with a killer groove to it that’ll make anyone get up and dance, including high-end supermodels and patchouli-smelling stoners who mingled amongst us in the Bowery’s balcony.

While the band as a unit was super-tight and all killer all night, it was drummer Stephanie Bailey who stole the show. A true “goddess of thunder,” she really dominated the performance, setting the tempo, pace and energy for every song. Truly a drummer that percussion fans need to check out.

Worth a Ticket?: The show was worth every cent of the $15 admission. Psych-rock is all about freeing and expanding your mind, and on this evening, my mind was opened to a tremendous band. Music lovers, if you’re looking to discover a risk-taking group of super-tight musicians, you need to get on The Black Angels immediately.

Setlist Note: Being a newbie to The Black Angels, I am pretty unfamiliar with the titles of the band’s songs, so I’ve included the setlist so any BA fan can check out what they played in New York:

[‘Good Vibrations’ introduction]
Bad Vibrations Play Video
Entrance Song
The Prodigal Sun
The Sniper At The Gates Of Heaven
The Sniper
Haunting at 1300 McKinley
Surf City (Revisited)
Science Killer
Yellow Elevator #2
Black Grease
You on the Run
Telephone
True Believers
Young Men Dead

Encore:
My Boat Is Sinking Play
Bloodhounds On My Trail
You In Color

Opening Note: The Canadian band Suuns opened. The group was a bit rough around the edges, sometimes getting into incredibly tight grooves, that made the audience really put their hands together. But alas, the band would often kill their momentum by trying a little too hard to be “psychedelic” like the headliners. Their lead singer would often contort and convulse ferociously, squeezing out words that were completely inaudible in a high-pitched, frantic screech. Their keyboard/sequencing player didn’t help matters by throwing in ear-bursting dissonance to almost all the opening parts to all their songs.

The Black Angels are currently on tour across the country, but this week they will be returning to Austin to headliner their annual Austin Psych Fest, a three-day celebration of psychedelic music from April 29-May 1. For info, including ticketing, check out Austin Psych Fest’s official website.

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