Standing to the right of the stage I caught a glimpse of a ominous shadow projected onto the curtains hanging behind the Black Angels. It could have been Jesus. It could have been Charles Manson. It was definitely some beardo dude with wild hair. It could have been any number of people at The Beachland Ballroom Wednesday night to see a twin bill of psychedelic rock from The Black Angels and The Warlocks. With a thick, sticky, drippy sound, and a stage show featuring a series of projectors and overheads playing a series of Sixties history lessons interspersed with mind melting visuals, a Black Angels show will attract it’s fair share of beardos — whether they lived 2000 years ago in the Middle East, are holed up in a California prison, or traveled from the west side of Cleveland. Still, I’m convinced that shadow didn’t come from the projector, or the band, or the beardos in the crowd. It had to be Jesus. Or maybe, Manson.
To best experience The Black Angels’ pulsating waves of dark sound, you need to get your face right in the middle of it. To some this meant sticking their ears directly on stacks of speakers lining the Beachland’s stage (something I wouldn’t recommend if you cherish your hearing). To most, this meant staring wide eyed at the stage, taking in every visual flashed behind the band, letting the ta-thump, ta-thump, ta-thump of Stephanie Bailey’s drums rumble around your guts, and feeling your hair raise when a piercing screech penetrates that ever present drone raised by guitarists Christian Bland, Nate Ryan, Kyle Hunt with the help from vocalist/guitarist/drone machine manipulator Alex Maas.
Being frequent visitors to our fair town, The Black Angels were greeted enthusiastically as they started their set with two heavy favorites from their debut disc Passover (“Manipulation” and “Sniper at The Gates of Heaven”) on either side of Direction to See a Ghost’s rumbling album opener, “You on the Run.” Yet, after that strong opening, you could notice a certain lag in the band. It’s understandable when you consider how long and how hard they tour. This was their fifth appearance in Cleveland in a little over two years. Some Cleveland bands don’t play around town that often, and The Black Angles call Austin, Texas home. This fatigue was most evident during “Black Grease,” when a sweaty and exhausted Alex Mass staggered his way through the song, missing a couple cues in the process.
If there’s one thing a band can learn by always being on the road, it’s the fine art of salvaging a show, and The Black Angels managed to do just that. They awakened from their hazy drone brought on by “Deer Ree Shee” and “Science Killer,” with a propulsive trio of numbers led by “Young Men Dead,” and punctuated by the Jesus and Mary Chain-like buzz saw pop of “Surf City Revisited,” before tearing into their set ender “Never Ever.” Following a brief respite, the band returned for an encore, and really found their heavy groove on “You in Color:” covering the room in a booming sound that culminated with a flurry of strobes, a hellish howl from deep within the throat of Maas, and the band freaking the f*ck out on a righteous jam. I swear I saw Jesus creeping through the shadows of stage again. Or maybe Manson. Or some beardo dude from the west side of Cleveland standing stage left. It didn’t matter. I came for Rock ‘N’ Roll to soothe my soul and that jam did it.
While The Warlocks latest release, 2007’s Heavy Deavy Skull Lover, found Bobby Hecksher and the band expanding their blissed out of your gourd, trippy sound in a more experimental direction, their Cleveland set focused more on the poppier moments of their catalog. Such is the fate of the opening band — the freak out jams are for the headliners, while the openers keep the crowd engaged with their faster paced numbers like “Shake the Dope Out” and “The Dope Feels Good.” Did you know the Warlocks like their dope? If you didn’t, you sure do now.
Musically, the band sounded surprisingly tight, crafting their own wall of sound around a three guitar and one bass attack. Unfortunately, Hecksher’s voice was warbly, and terminally off key. Not a strong vocalist to begin with, the high vocal levels in the mix worsened this effect, making one wonder if he just had an off night, or if he has a voice better suited to the controlled setting of a studio. Either way, they would have benefited from even more guitar and way less vocals.
Black Angels Set List:
2. You on the Run
3. Sniper at The Gates of Heaven
4. Mission District
5. Black Grease
6. Deer Ree Shee
7. Science Killer
8. Young Men Dead
9. Surf City Revisited
10. Never Ever
12. You in Color