By virtue of leaving my trusty metronome at home I can’t vouch for the quantitative validity of the following statement, but it sure seemed The Black Angels carried a little extra pep steps when they played the Beachland Ballroom on Sunday night. From the opening tom tom beat of “Doves,” it sure sounded to these ears as if the tempos had been pushed a few extra BPMs. It was a surprising development for the Austin five-piece, as their 2008 album, Directions to See a Ghost, saw them take their dark and murky psychedelic rock to deeper, more meditative realms.
Granted, saying the Black Angels had some extra pep is not akin to saying they spent the night criss-crossing the stage, performing high risk rock kicks, or windmilling their solos. Even through the massive rock attack which is “Black Grease,” they remained largely sedate, with the only movement being the slight head toss to facilitate an especially righteous riff.
The Black Angels are still a band who thrive on mood, not action, and by the time they finally got the stage lights just right, there was barely any light left in the room. From the rear of the venue, all you could see were ill-defined forms. You could make out a face when, and only when, a band member happened to wander in front a small globe of light reflected from the stationary mirror ball. The darkness provided to be an apt setting for such fan favorites as “You on the Run,” and “Science Killer,” where long droning passages would be shocked back to life with a scathing shot of guitar, or a hair-raising yelp from deep in the belly of vocalist Alex Maas.
The biggest reaction of the night, however, was saved for “Young Men Dead,” a song popularized in the trailer for the Coen Brothers film, No Country for Old Men. Thanks to an extra crank of the amps, this one shook and rattled that old mirror ball into movement. It had the crowd shaking, too. During the song there was a noticeable groove going on stage center, and as the last note faded, the band were treated to a serenade of “Woo-hoo’s.”
The crowd’s graciousness didn’t end with “Young Men Dead.” They even sounded excited when Maas uttered the dreaded phrase, “We’re going to play some new songs.” Now, it has to be said, with all the echo on his microphone, there was a very good chance that those who heard “New songs” and replied “Woo!” may have interpreted “We going to play some new songs,” as “She’s wearing only a thong.” Still, echo or no echo, the new material was received rather well. Less droning, less wandering, two of the new numbers in particular, showed a pop side rarely heard from The Black Angels, providing a rare opportunity for the crowd to break free from bug eyed head bobbing and do their best surf rock dance moves.
Opening for The Black Angels, were Disappears, a four piece from Chicago, featuring members of The Ponys, 90 Day Men and Boas. While few in attendance were familiar with the band prior to their opening slot on Sunday (According to Mark Leddy of the Beachland there were probably 8 people here for their last show), there’s a damn good chance they ended the night with many more fans.
Keeping to the more re-verb, more echo, more everything theme of The Black Angles, Disappears played a style of music — one part kraut-rock, and one part punk — which engulfed the big room with riveting, pulsating sounds. The rhythm section would keep to clean and succinct repetitive lines, while the two guitarists had entirely different designs. Their tones were big, blurry and bright, attempting to obfuscate the production line like efficiency of the bass and drums. As a result, they came off a bit like space rockers, The Secret Machines, but only after adding a fistful of amphetamines to their daily drug regimen.
Kicking off the night’s rock action, were Pierced Arrows, the new outfit for ex-Dead Moon members Fred and Toody Cole. While Dead Moon’s output covered garage, punk, and country, Pierced Arrows had a more singular focus, that of power rock. Not quite metal, not psych, nor punk, Motorhead-styled Rock ‘N’ Roll, is perhaps the closest you can come to pinning them down. And for those in the crowd for whom the Dead Moon name meant something, their brand of rock absolutely ripped.