Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Black Angels and Black Mountain - The Earl, Atlanta, Nov. 12

Back in 2005, someone (an on-line acquaintance, but one who's musical taste I admired) recommended that I check out four new albums released that year. I managed to download all four of the albums, and although I really liked the first, Silent Alarm by Bloc Party, that band has since gone in a direction that was unimaginable from their fine first album, a direction that I'm not inclined to follow. But of all four bands, I was initially excited most about Bloc Party, and still enjoy hearing Silent Alarm if not their latter output.

But over the following years, I've continued to be a big fan of the other three bands. Spoon, whose Gimme Fiction was among the recommended albums, have only improved since 2005, and Metric, whose Live It Out was also among the recommended albums, also continue to release great music. I managed to see both of the these bands (Spoon and Metric) perform this year.

So that leaves one more band, the one that I finally saw perform last Friday night - Black Mountain. Back in 2005, I picked up their self-titled debut as recommended, and I've followed their output since that time. But before I discuss them any more, mention has to first be made of their opening act, Austin's Black Angels.

2010 has been a very good year for The Black Angels. Their latest album, Phosphene Dream, was released to uniformly good reviews, and has reached No. 6 on Rolling Stone's college radio chart. They've played on Letterman. If their tour opening for Black Mountain had started a month or two later, after their career exploded, they would probably be the headliner.

Their set Friday night was exceptional. Their music has been described as "a barrage of ghostly drones" and singer Alex Maas led the band on a tear through their set list. The band's two guitarists provided some incredible guitar work that would not have sounded out of place at a Big Brother & The Holding Company concert at the Fillmore West, circa 1968. They're obviously influenced by the louder output of The Velvet Underground - the band's name comes from the Velvet's Black Angel's Death Song, and a picture of the legendary Velvet singer Nico is featured on drummer Stephanie Bailey's bass drum.

Late in the set, the "barrage of ghostly drones" was interrupted by their single, Telephone, a pop song that almost sounds like it could be a cover of some 60s British Invasion band (fittingly, it's what they played on their appearance on Letterman). Bailey kept a steady, driving rhythm, playing her bass, tom and snare almost exclusively, and largely ignored the cymbals.

The Black Angels played a full, nearly 60-minute set, followed by a long intermission for Black Mountain to set up all of their equipment. Their stage crew performed what was probably the most meticulous sound check I've seen all year - the band are obviously perfectionists in getting their complex sound right, and their performance was worth every minute of the sound check.

Black Mountain's songs feature twin vocals by bandleader and guitarist Stephen McBean and singer Amber Webber over the band's heavy psych-rock riffs. It's a credit to both the band and The Earl's sound engineer that they got the balance right between the vocals and the instruments. Amber occasionally would get drowned out, only to have the engineer somehow get her voice back on top of the mix a line or two later. Their music has been described as psych-rock, and they sound a bit like some offspring of Deep Purple and Rust Never Sleeps-era Neil Young, with some Velvet Underground and numerous other influences thrown into the mix.

Anyway, they've become one of my favorite bands, and they sounded great in concert, blasting the room out during the parts of their songs that require blasting, dreamily carrying the audience along on the dreamy parts of their songs. They performed selections from all three of their albums, and like The Black Angles before them, played for well over an hour, followed by one short, single-song encore.

My ears rang for several hours afterwards, a fitting end to Rocktober. For those of you keeping score at home, Rocktober consisted of eleven bands in three weeks (Atlanta's Sealions and the aforementioned Metric at Vareity Playhouse, Thievery Corporation and Massive Attack at the Fox, Peter Wolf Crier, Vetiver and Dawes at Smith's Old Bar, Damian Jurado and Shearwater at The Earl, and finally The Black Angels and Black Mountain back at The Earl again). I blew off the planned Sufjan Stevens concert at Variety Playhouse - no disrespect to Stevens, but a slight case of mid-Rocktober burnout - and tickets never did materialize for the sold-out Mumford & Sons show, but still, it was a great run.

And now it's over. Time to clear my mind and get ready for Rohatsu.

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