The Black Angels don’t believe in remote controlled drones; they pilot them directly through their amps and use them to achieve a sonically beautiful destruction. Not a lot of other bands have a member who specifically is credited with operating a drone machine/organ. Then again, the whole group pretty much operates as a drone machine.
The Austin quartet (now expanded to a quintet) may have been inspired by The Velvet Underground’s composition “The Black Angel’s Death Song” for their name, and the late Nico for their logo, but tonight’s show at Chicago’s Vic Theatre was anything but a death knell for their dark, psychedelic stylings.
Sure, the evening began on a funereal note with the death march “Vikings” from their 2008 record, Directions To See A Ghost, but the night’s set contained many uptempo moments as well, such as the following revolving paintdream of “I Hear Colors (Chromaesthesia)” from their new record, Indigo Meadow. The song and its synesthetic lyrics brought to mind the Nuggets classic by The Move, “I Can Hear The Grass Grow” and the cautionary tale of “Don’t Play With Guns” resurrected the ghost of fellow Texans Butthole Surfers’ “Pepper.”
“Entrance Song” merged the classic road trip song (on I-35, evidently) with a classic rock trip of Pink Floyd “Interstellar Overdrive” proportions. So heavy and dark was “Evil Things” that it sounded like what Black Sabbath must have been like in their early days. “Telephone” saw The Black Angels at their most ’60s-like moment, so much that it was easy to imagine this was a lost Monkees b-side voiced by an out of control Micky Dolenz (rejected because of excessive darkness, no doubt).
Throughout their set, The Black Angels proved themselves maestros of psychedelic sludge, pulsing drones and valleys of histrionic guitars, and trebly, reverb-heavy tenor vocals, led by lead singer Alex Maas.
To be sure, the smell of dope wafted about occasionally inside The Vic (some may have been celebrating 4/20 prematurely), but one wonders how heavy an aroma would have been created if LSD had an odor.
“You On The Run” was the only other track from Directions, and “Young Men Dead” and “Black Grease” were the only tracks featured from their 2005 full-length debut, Passover, but all were highlights. In fact, it was difficult to find any low lights or dull moments in their 20-plus song set, which is something to be said for a band that specializes in mining and refining a menacing drone.
On “Twisted Light” Maas sang “All our children, wild and laughing, at the thought of leisured confusion, appear visions, imploding knowledge, spin this nova into a flourished pool.” So in other words, the strobe lights and far-out projections on the screens behind them weren’t the only twisted lights shining tonight. “Black Grease,” the video for which seems to show one of the members wearing a Charles Manson T-shirt, shows their obsession with the cult of death thusly: “You made me see that bright eye/Between me and time/To just kill kill kill kill/You kill what you can/And you kill kill kill kill/Anything you want.”
Now, on Indigo Meadow, The Black Angels still seem to be obsessed with death, and continue to be preoccupied with the Vietnam War, most clearly on “Broken Soldier.”
These aren’t your dad’s shiny happy pop nuggets—as Maas sings on “Haunting At 1300 McKinley,” “it’s way too dark.” This was their most Doors-like moment of the night—perhaps the ghost they are trying to evoke was one staying at the Morrison Hotel. So it comes as no surprise to recollect that the video for that song was filmed in Paris, where Morrison’s grave resides.
Rhishi Dhir of openers Elephant Stone joined The Black Angels on the sitar to conclude their main set with “True Believers” from their 2010 record Phosphene Dream. After the main quintet concluded their primary poking of the psychedelic underbelly, they departed the stage, but Dhir stayed to solo on the sitar for a lovely ending.
After a few moments of darkened silence, only the singer and bassist returned at first. “Babe before I met you, blackness everywhere,” Maas sang, “now here you come all dressed in white, climbing up this world, like a vine that will not die, and placed on this planet, darkness at the door, now blackness isn’t black anymore.” Eventually the whole group reassembled and plowed pummeling through the rest of the song, before “Black Isn’t Black” died out like a candle’s fickle, flickering flame as the oil became spent.
The Black Angels at The Vic Theatre on April 19, 2013 setlist
- “I Hear Colors (Chromaesthesia)”
- “Don’t Play with Guns”
- “Entrance Song”
- “Evil Things”
- “You’re Mine”
- “Indigo Meadow”
- “You On the Run”
- “Twisted Light”
- “Black Grease”
- “Yellow Elevator #2”
- “The Day”
- “Broken Soldier”
- “Haunting at 1300 McKinley”
- “Bad Vibrations”
- “Young Men Dead”
- “True Believers” (with Rishi Dhir of Elephant Stone on sitar)
- “Black Isn’t Black” (with Rishi Dhir of Elephant Stone on sitar)