The Black Angels at The Bottleneck

Sound Induced Visions, Vistas and Landscapes on a Psychedelic Night in Lawrence

The Black Angels are on a roll, and Lawrence and Kansas City music fans are enjoying the benefit. The band played The Bottleneck for the second time in just six months on Saturday October 15. A bold move for any band, bolder considering The Black Angels just played Kanrocksas two months ago under the sweltering sun on day two of the festival’s inaugural outing.

No matter. In both instances The Bottleneck was near if not at capacity in what I feel might have been music fans’ last chance to catch the group in a venue of this size. Further, the crowd for both shows was pretty different as several in the audience were in attendance on this night after having their first blush with the band at Kanrocksas based on the buzz I heard around the venue. The great thing about The Black Angels is that they’ve proven, be it sweltering outdoor festival or in the intimate, small, restroom-less, dive bar-like confines of The Bottleneck, their outstanding live performance doesn’t change.

The Austin, TX based quintet embraces the psychedelic rock genre label they fit perfectly into proudly. The group spreads and celebrates the spirit of psychedelic rock so much so that they co-host the annual Austin Psych Fest each April in their home town. Celebrating the genre’s strong roots and ties to the unique Texas city and state capital. This makes sense as seeing and hearing The Black Angels leads my mind to wild and vivid visual landscapes of color and open uninhabited lands, remembrances of my most stirring fever dreams and scenes from any number of Oliver Stone films. The band has refereed to their sound as “Electrified Native American Drone ‘n’ Roll”. It makes sense as I don’t feel like I could ever forget the first time I saw the band live. I felt at times as If I was hypnotized by the thundering drums, screeching fuzzed out guitars, and vocals that never waiver. As each song seems to layout its story and a strobe that fired its way directly into my mind to fill it full of animated creatures I’d vision in my head for days after the long concluded show and now revisit with each listen of one of the group’s three full length albums.

The band has been touring quite a bit in support of their excellent 2010 release of Phosphene Dream . This was obvious by a set list that left but one lone track “River of Blood” out of the fold, but included a bonus track known as “Melanie’s Melody”.

The band played seventeen songs mixing in material from their critically acclaimed debut album 2006’s Passover and 2008’s Directions to See a Ghost. The energy of both the band and audience during the duration of their set never once waned. The group opened with Phosphene Dream closer “The Sniper”, which starts off with a slower pace but quickly kicks things up a notch and sets a tempo that seemingly wouldn’t let up until the band left the stage prior to returning for a four song encore.

The group was pretty much all business with little small talk during the set save a mention for the openers Spindrift and Dead Meadow. This was a bit of a departure from their last stop in when it was discussed that bassist Nate Ryan was from Kansas and spent some of his formative years in Lawrence. The stage setup was pretty much a carbon copy of that April stop but the band had brought some new visuals to the proceedings. The group pretty much performs in the dark with the only lighting coming from a projector that in turn displays visuals on the screen behind them with a well-timed and powerful strobe kicking in at just the right times. The thing about The Black Angels is that with a sound as layered and dense with so many effects pedals coming into play it would be easy for lesser musicians to have the sound become one giant wall of droning noise. The impressive thing about The Black Angels is how effortless they make producing their albums’ material live seem. Further, just about every member of the group handles varying duties with each song. Bass, lead, and rhythm guitar duties are swapped, additional percussion comes into play, vocal duties are passed around. At any one time from song to song it seemed any one of the five members of the group could swap out with another yet they all have their own unique stage presence you don’t soon forget.

The openers on this particular evening resulted in one highlight and one that seemed an odd choice that felt out of place on the evening. Spindrift kicked off the night with their western-styled sonic soundscapes that I could easily envision playing in contemporary or even classic western films. Fitting, seeing as their latest release is titled Classic Soundtracks Volume 1. The group’s energy by way of their music and their performance was a rocket blast out of the gates on this Saturday night and set the bar incredibly high. Had the show been over, and I, none the wiser that The Black Angels were playing I would have left the show supremely satisfied.

With the bar being set so high out of the gates by Spindrift, the second act of the night, Dead Meadow, had their work cut out for them. The Washington, DC based trio sonically just felt completely out of place on this bill. The band put on a solid performance, but their blend of hard rock that at times sounded like homages to something you could find listening to classic rock radio didn’t do much for me.

by John Coovert

photos by Ryan Davis

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