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The Black Angels @ Rough Trade East

Until that one warm, rainy night in July 2007, ‘The Black Angels were quite simply a dark horse to me. Hailing from Texas’ liberal enclave of Austin, the (then) five-piece left me awe-inspired as a support act for my beloved ‘Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’ at Amsterdam’s marvellous church venue ‘Paradiso’. Amazed by their hypnotic, fuzzy sound, the founders of ‘Austin Psych Fest’ and secret predecessors of 60’s local psych formation ‘13th Floor Elevators’ eventually introduced me to, well yeah, ‘neo-psychadelia’. Nearly six years later, the musicians around masterminds Alex Mass and Christian Bland stopped by in London’s Rough Trade East for a free in-store gig to promote their fourth album Indigo Meadow.
Unmistakably, The Black Angels’ distinctive soundscape further progressed – or should I rather say travelled backwards in music history? The new material greatly differs from their first two albums, pretty much following the trail of their 3rd release ‘Phosphene Dream’ with a tamer, almost bluesy mid-60s psychedelic sound, influenced by early Pink Floyd, Kinks or The Animals. However, the narcotic vibe of ‘Passover’ and the spiritualizing appeal of ‘Directions to see a Ghost’, which I hold so dear, still remain crucial, but reduced ingredients of the musicians’ creativity. As I greatly appreciate this rougher, spherical and mind-numbing Velvet Undergroundish work of the early days in particular, I was albeit very curious to get a first-hand live impression of the new tracks.

Despite the great crowd gathering on and outside the premises of Rough Trade East, I managed to snatch one of the highly coveted concert-wristbands and gladly endured the sudden London summer rain, waiting for the show to begin. Eventually opening with The Day, a gloomy homage to Jim Morrison and The Doors, Alex Mass’s mellow voice quickly dashed away my initial scepticism and turned it into stunned delight. As it has been often the case with their past song-writing, several of the new tracks inherit a certain spark of social criticism and political disaffection. Apart from its appealing content, the remarkable song Don’t play with Guns has this upbeat, hazy, almost jazzy flow, similar to ‘Telephone’ off their 3rd album, which – to me – is a great addition to the band’s repertoire. The audience, ranging from young to old-time psychadelians, embraced it quite favourably. Well, those one’s who as yet refused to fall into a state of excitement, were eventually encouraged by the soon following, hypnotizing beat of You on the Run. Indeed a truly badass performance and one of the night’s highlights.

After interspersing the set-list with the hazy and bewitching Love me forever and the playful You’re mine, suddenly all hell broke loose when the first few catchy guitar tunes of their masterpiece began to resonate. Chanting ‘Hold on tight, yes hold on tight, you’re too slow’, Mass’s sinister, distorted voice and the droned bass-play entirely transmitted the band’s energy onto the thrilled audience. Firing banger after banger – including the infectious Bad Vibrations and Manipulation – it was eventually time for the final track of the night: Guffawing, they announced a (supposedly) twenty-minute version of Bloodhounds on my trail. Certainly, I might’ve been not the only one who wanted to believe it as I know how extensive their live performances can be. Not exactly twenty minutes later, but barely an hour in total, the quintet quite literally fled the stage like hunted animals. And yet again, with a ringing in my ears, there’s definitely one thing I know about The Black Angels: They bloody well deliver.


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