The Black Angels

support Föllakzoid + De Underjordiske
author AP date 28/08/18 venue Den Grå Hal, Copenhagen, DEN

Summer has drawn to an end, meaning two things: that we in Scandinavia must prepare ourselves for at least eight depressingly dark, wet and windblown months, and that the busiest concert season is about to begin. Leading this deluge of highly anticipated shows is a veritable feast of psychedelic rock in the suitable confines of Christiania’s Grå Hal (‘the grey hall’), boasting bands from three continents, each with their own idea of what the genre can sound like. No doubt the main draw, and the reason why the venue was able to slap the ‘only a few tickets left’ sticker at the door, however, are the Black Angels, who have established themselves as one of the most potent actors in the genre — not least by virtue of their latest album, 2017’s “Death Song”.

Unfortunately, no photographer was available for this show.

De Underjordiske

As the opening act, De Underjordiske are without the impressive mist and upright light bars that have become a staple of the psychedelic rockers’ stage production over the last few years. But nonetheless, within a few minutes of the opening track (the title of which escapes me), the gradually filling venue is enveloped in a mysterious atmosphere, the five musicians transformed into gently swaying silhouettes by the dim beams of interchanging blue and red light from above and behind. This visual aesthetic is an excellent fit for the music, which has this vast, shamanic, and quite Nordic sound to it. The melodies are light, yet there is an intensity lurking just beneath the surface — one that often unfolds into a loud and lush crescendo, like in the evening’s fourth song, “Piskesmæld” (off this year’s “Flænger i luften” LP). As the music ebbs and flows, so does the quintet, always personifying the mood and tempo through movement, despite coming across as quite the introspective bunch. A back is arched in order to add emotion to a particular guitar solo, instruments are struck with a vengeance when the music is at its loudest and most intense, and there is plenty of headbanging going on to accompany the bouncy and hard-hitting “Ilddøbt” — a brand new single given its live début tonight. It is easy to understand how the band has managed to establish itself as a darling of the Danish critics so quickly when one observes the fervour with which that song is performed, how well it is written, and the spectacularity of the lighting that accompanies it. Truly, De Underjordiske belong among the elite of homegrown psychedelic bands right now, giving Danish fans a myriad reasons to check out one of the many headlining shows they have booked between now and early December.

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Föllakzoid

Billed as “very special guests”, the promoters made no secret of their affection for Föllakzoid when they announced the Chilean trio. Having never heard of the band before, this of course piqued my interest to an extent that I was looking forward to their set more than the headliners’. I am not disappointed. The show kicks off with an extensive inferno of keyboard and guitar effects, before Diego Lorca enters and lays down the looping drumbeat to which the entire show clings. Those effects continue as well, becoming ever more freakish until the proceedings no longer feel like a rock concert — rather, it resembles electronic lounge music with elements of krautrock and psytrance speckled on top, played with rock instruments. The result is fascinating and altogether mesmerising, inspiring swathes of people to show off their dance moves at guitarist Domingo García-Huidobro’s behest. Although this evening gown-dressed eccentric spends a lot of time kneeling at his pedal board, twisting and turning the various knobs that conjure much of Föllakzoid’s unique sound, his silhouette, too, seems to be lost in a hypnotised dance, looking like a raver next to the DJ-like demeanour of his keyboardist. It is impossible not to space out during this… session, which delivers itself uninterrupted for 35 minutes, embracing the art of repetition in a way unlike anything I have experienced before. One is left to wonder whether a full-length concert by this trio might be too much for the mind to handle, but at least in this compact format, it is one of the coolest things I have borne witness to in this concert year.

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The Black Angels

As soon as these Austin, TX-born headliners unleash their first song of the evening, “Bad Vibrations” off 2010’s “Phosphene Dreams”, everything beyond the security fence upfront transforms into the inside of a kaleidoscope, with whirling, hypnotic, rainbow-coloured patterns projecting themselves onto every available surface. Indeed, the mere visual aesthetic of a Black Angels concert suffices to justify all of the hype surrounding this band, and provides enough reasons to go watch them live. This is the second time for me, and compared to the show last year, I have grown to appreciate the Texans’ music to a greater degree as well, relishing the wealth of cool details and effects sewn into the likes of “I Dreamt”, off the phenomenal “Death Song” LP the band released in 2017. There is so much colour, shape and life in their songs, and the visuals are the perfect embodiment of that, transforming what would otherwise be just a solid psychedelic rock gig into an audiovisual journey that constantly stimulates and challenges your mind.

I will concede that the five musicians, who regularly swap instruments, are not a particularly energetic bunch, coming across as quite introverted and distant most of the time. But that hardly matters when the visual engineer deploys effects like the exploding rainbow during “Half Believing” (another track off the aforementioned “Death Song”) or replicates the band members’ silhouettes to infinity on the white screen that serves as the backdrop when “Grab as Much (as You Can)” (also from that record) is aired. I will also concede that the group’s setlists tend to be quite homogenous, with very few of the tracks — such as my personal favourite, “Currency” — deviating from the norm. Indeed, there is not a whole lot of differentiation between one song and the next, even though the setlist is spread well enough across the five albums the ‘Angels have released since their inception in 2004. I am not one of those diehard fans who consider the likes of “Death Song” to have discovered the holy grail of psychedelic rock, but I can still appreciate the fact that the Black Angels have a strong hand in helping the genre cross over into the mainstream. The band writes really good music and it moves into another dimension via the spellbinding visuals. It is hard to escape its allure in the live setting.

I thus leave the concert with the same sentiment as last time; there is no doubt that the Black Angels are one of the most fixating live acts in the genre right now, but because the music insists on being so uniform, it is hard to spot that stroke of genius that many people ascribe to the band. Still, the storm of applause and cheering that erupts when “Bloodhounds on My Trail” and “Young Men Dead” (both off the band’s début album, “Passover”, of 2006) round off the concert after an encore is a compelling argument to the contrary, and you can be almost certain that I’ll be among the audience again the next time that this Austin-born quintet rolls into town.

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Setlist:

  • 01. Bad Vibrations
  • 02. The Prodigal Sun
  • 03. Molly Moves My Generation
  • 04. I Dreamt
  • 05. Empire
  • 06. Medicine
  • 07. The Return
  • 08. Currency
  • 09. Half Believing
  • 10. Grab as Much (as You Can)
  • 11. Black Grease
  • 12. Phosphene Dream
  • 13. Entrance Song

— Encore —

  • 14. Science Killer
  • 15. Bloodhounds on My Trail
  • 16. Young Men Dead

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