In a word: Badass. None of this “acoustic folk rock” which permeates YouTube generating endless artsy hipster covers. The Black Angels deliver that kind of kick-in-the-guts rhythm of a proper rock band, without wanky guitar solos. They build their songs on simple yet kickass riffs backed with the awesome keys and vocals by Alex Maas.
For a self proclaimed “Psychedelic Rock” band, I expected more. I expected tripped out guitar soloing, more weird effects, ugly shoes, and definitely more multi-coloured headbands. That isn’t to say I was disappointed; in fact I was enthralled. Good music is still good music, expectations or none; the true nature of psychedelia frees your mind and alters your perception of the world around you.
Nearly all the band members switched instruments at some point. It seemed like everyone played guitar- one would be inclined to think at times that three guitarists and a bassist would lose effectiveness, sounding akin to three screaming kids, and a dog in a minivan, although surprisingly, their sound was crisp, tight and balanced with almost Beatles-esque backing vocals. I couldn’t help but draw comparisons with Screaming Trees, Same the Sham and The Pharaohs or The Doors’ punchy 60’s rock.
The Black Angels’ strongest trait has to be playing a flawless live show. No feedback, no missed notes, and no weak moments or bad jokes. They build up to a crescendo so well, it’s all you can do not to spill your beer on everyone around you while dancing (or bobbing and weaving grotesquely in my case). Stephanie Bailey’s monster skin pounding is so good it could make Jon Bonham’s daughter write angry YouTube comments for a month. It’s infectious. Have a listen. If you have neighbours, annoy them. If you have roommates, wake them up. This kind of music was never meant to be played quietly.
The Black Angels seem like a throwback to the time of raw, analog sound while still keeping their approach modern. Ask Christian Bland (guitar and bass) about his gear, and he’ll happily indulge you in a conversation. Cheers with their manager, and he’ll push you up onstage for a better angle on a photo. Push your way to the front of a crowded venue, and you just might have a better time than everyone standing at the bar. There is just something about craning your neck in front of the stage at a packed rock show that resonates with a certain nerve in the brain. It’s psychedelia.
The Black Angels played at Sala Rossa on April 12, 2011. For more photos from The Black Angels live in Montreal visit us on Facebook.