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The Black Angels

support A Place To Bury Strangers
author AP date 13/09/17 venue Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN

Anyone who regularly reads this webzine will know that the fabled 10/10 grade is not something that we use lightly. Therefore, when we do award it to an album, there should be no excuse for not checking that record out and, if the opportunity presents itself, going to see the band in question live. The first release in a long time to earn these accolades from us was the Austin, TX-based Black Angels’ fifth studio outing, “Death Song”, and we were fortunate to also be graced by a headlining concert here in Copenhagen, announced shortly after the LP came out. The writer responsible for dubbing “Death Song” a complete album no longer writes for us on a regular basis, so the honour of covering the show befell our next-in-line when it comes to digging all things slow, stoning and psychedelic: yours truly.

All photos courtesy of Stefan Frank thor Straten

A Place To Bury Strangers

The evening’s support act, New York City, NY’s A Place to Bury Strangers, appear to have kicked off their set prematurely. Arriving on the dot for the advertised start time, I am met at once by a tsunami of noise, and in the midst of it, guitarist Oliver Ackermann holding his instrument by the neck and repeatedly slamming it into the floor — a feat usually reserved for ending a concert that has me thinking I must have misread the poster and in fact arrived too late. Fortunately, this is not the case; Ackermann’s destructive impulses are simply part of the noise rock trio’s repertoire and embody a variety of forms throughout the performance. At one point, bassist Dion Lunadon must summon all of his focus in order to be able to sing and play his instrument while Ackermann hovers around him wielding a strobe light and sticking his feet in between Lunadon’s in a bizarre take on the bullet dance. And later into the set, we witness Ackermann banging a tom-tom and then enlisting one of the drumsticks in lieu of a plectrum, before ultimately collapsing onto his knees and letting his guitar drop onto the stage floor in a deafening gong.

Ackermann’s wild antics form a vital part of APTBS’ expression thus, given that much of the music is best described as prototypical noise rock and as such a bit difficult to digest at first. The songs do pack elements of psychedelic rock, shoegaze and even post-punk, too, however, so whinging about a lack of variety would be out of order — and this variety is beefed up by the three musicians alternating the microphone duty; where Ackermann prefers the megaphonic style of Les Claypool et al., drummer Lia Braswell contributes a more serene variant (nicely juxtaposed by her devious grin and maniacal style of drumming), and Lunadon’s voice finding a middle ground between the two. This cocktail of diversity, energy and music designed to overwhelm and envelop the listener makes APTBS an enthralling act to watch live. One gets the feeling that regardless of how many of the trio’s shows one has seen, they will always be unpredictable or at the very least unhinged — an impression reinforced when, at the end, the there musicians dissolve into the audience and then emerge in the middle of it, huddled over a wooden box full of lights, knobs and dials out of which they conjure the sort of rave one would imagine takes place by the hundreds at the Burning Man festival. It is an expectedly unexpected conclusion to one of the most memorable concerts I have seen this year — truly, the bar has been set high for the headliner.

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The Black Angels

The ways of delivering a captivating performance are many, however, and the Black Angels use other means to entice the audience. There is nothing unpredictable about the Texan psychedelic rockers; rather, the band believes in subtle elegance (musically) and lush aesthetics (visually). Everything on stage, the five musicians included, is used as a surface for projecting hypnotic spirals, kaleidoscopic patterns and other abstract visuals onto in every imaginable colour, creating this engrossing audio-visual experience that grows more fascinating the more one stares at it. The lulling nature of songs like “I Dreamt” and “I Hear Colors (Chromaesthesia)” of course plays a significant part in this process as well, but even when the ‘Angels bust out one of the poppier pieces of their repertoire (the ones that undoubtedly pushed this concert to selling out), the distinctly séance-y feel of the proceedings remains in place.

One of the chief contributors to the entrancing atmosphere is the way in which the Black Angels carry themselves. They offer virtually no interaction and when they engage the likes of “Comanche Moon” and “Life Song”, one gets the feeling that the band is lost in some other world. Most of the time, the five musicians are locked in a hypnotising groove, building layer upon layer of guitar, keys, organ, maracas and tambourine onto iterating rhythms laid down by drummer Stephanie Bailey and whoever happens to be wielding the bass guitar (the four frontmen — Christian Bland, Jake Garcia, Kyle Hunt and Alex Maas — are quite fond of alternating between the array of instruments used by the band), bobbing and swaying ever so subtly as if to assure us that physically, at least, they are still here.

If there is anything to criticise the ‘Angels for, it would be the fact that the concert seems almost too streamlined, and as such, it lacks the organicity that one tends to associate with psychedelic rock. The sound and visual aesthetic are top notch but one finds oneself longing for those long, spaced out jam segments that are often experienced at concerts in this genre and shoulder the responsibility of creating those truly transcendental moments. Indeed, while the Texan group does an excellent job according to most parameters, the one thing missing from this trip is some proper dynamics, some peaks and troughs to keep the audience on its toes. In honesty, “Death Song” itself suffers from that same ailment and especially after experiencing the material played live, I would be much less inclined to agree with my colleague’s towering praise of that record. Like the concert, it is a lesson in how to do psychedelic rock but a masterclass? Not exactly.

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Setlist:

  • 01. Currency
  • 02. Bad Vibrations
  • 03. The Prodigal Sun
  • 04. I Dreamt
  • 05. Medicine
  • 06. I Hear Colors (Chromaesthesia)
  • 07. Black Grease
  • 08. Grab as Much (As You Can)
  • 09. Half Believing
  • 10. The Sniper at the Gates of Heaven
  • 11. Entrance Song
  • 12. I’d Kill for Her
  • 13. You on the Run
  • 14. Comanche Moon
  • 15. Life Song

— Encore —

  • 16. Estimate
  • 17. Death March
  • 18. Young Men Dead

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