all words: William Alberque
all photos: Brandon Hirsch
m not one for psychedelic bands with hippy influences, with album reviews rife with references to the Animals, Grace Slick, or the Stones. I’m a child of punk and post-punk, Britpop and shoegaze – the bands that eschewed the hippy aesthetic and created something new. So what the hell am I doing at the 930 Club waiting for the Suuns and the Black Angels on a Sunday night? And why am I so bloody pleased to be here?
Well, the (sad) fact is, I’ve only heard about the Black Angels last year because of their superb collaboration with UNKLE on the 2010 masterpiece, Where Did the Night Fall, titled, “Natural Selection.” The song is a disconcertingly sad exploration of loneliness and loss that made my list of the greatest songs of 2010; they followed it up by releasing another on the Eclipse soundtrack, titled “With You in My Head” – a galloping, overwhelming sonic journey that sits proudly on the best soundtrack of 2010 (and probably the largest difference between the quality of a soundtrack and a movie, ever).
A quick scan of the ‘net gave me a free download of the Black Angels’ cover of Black Mountain’s “No Satisfaction.” So far, I’m getting influences like Revolution-era Spacemen 3, the Jesus and Mary Chain, fellow Austin band 13 Floor Elevators, and, on the UNKLE tracks, Clinic (no kidding, singer Alex Maas sounds a dead ringer for Ade Blackburn). So what gives? After listening to a couple of new tracks (“Telephone,” “Bad Vibrations”), I guess I can understand the psych reference (they have an instrument listed as “drone machine,” for chrissakes), but this is definitely a later kind of psychedelia than the 1960s-era jam-band fug, and one that would fit comfortably on a bill with Bardo Pond, the Darkside, and Loop.
The Black Angels live, however, have a mesmeric presence that translates immediately to crowd appeal. If others were there, like me, curious about the Angels but not won over, we all walked out fans. To put it quite simply, the Black Angels are a glorious live experience.
The Suuns deal in more direct references to 1990s math- and space-rock, and would fit snugly on the roster of Michigan label Burn Hair Records or maybe Constellation. Live, Suuns sound a little harder, a little faster, and closer akin to (former) local heroes, (the Sounds of) Kaleidoscope crossed with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. The Canadian band has had quite a year already, touring Europe, opening for Crystal Castles on the West Coast, SXSW, and now spending a full month with the Black Angels.
They obviously have built a tight set of well-crafted songs, combining motornik builds with brilliant, urgent, fast guitars, stabbing keyboards, and enough noise to engage with the crowd (and I can only imagine how hard it must have been to win over the CCastles’ fans). Pairing them with the Black Angels seems an inspired choice.
Indeed, I had read from other live reviews that the Black Angels could be a little dry, a little proggy, even a bit boring at times. Suuns brought the best out in the Angels on Sunday, infusing them with infectious energy and helping inspire a brilliant set. The Angels played a wholly- entrancing set of beautifully crafted and brilliantly executed rock and roll songs.
Maas doubles as vocalist and bassist, wearing his trademark worn cap, with the mesmerizingly aggressive Stephanie Bailey on drums, Kyle Hunt on keys, and Christian Bland and Nate Ryan providing a dual guitar attack. They all trade off on instruments, adding maracas, tambourine, “the drone machine,” and anything else they can to build a consistent wall of noise.
It was easy to slip, from time to time, into the feeling that the Angels were reaching back to the late 1960s guitar nostalgia suggested by their Velvet Underground imagery (note Nico on the drum kit) and psychedelic backdrop. But the modern influences break through again and again, and I can’t help feeling that Jason Spaceman or Spectrum would nod approvingly throughout their set.
I am not familiar with their song titles – and there was no way I was getting a set list – but I recognized “Entrance Song,” “Sniper,” “Haunting at 1300 McKinley,” “Surf City Revisited,” “Telephone,” and “Bad Vibrations.” The set was long, but not in any way underserved – I didn’t feel bored or disinterested, in spite of hearing many of the songs live for the first time – as were a fair number of the audience. They had a nice encore as well, with an acoustic track, before ending strongly with another couple of rockers.
I imagine they sold quite a number of records – their latest, Phosgene Dream, as well as their previous two albums and an excellent EP (Exit, with the aforementioned “No Satisfaction” – score!), and a fair amount of clothing. In all, it was a wonderful experience, and I marched out of the club with my hands dug deep into my pockets and a self-assured feeling that missing LCD Soundsystem this weekend wasn’t such a bad thing after all. With the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Twin Shadow, Warpaint, the W after party, and the Black Angels, my weekend was not bad at all. Now, if we can only get Cale back down off the ceiling…