If the crowd Saturday night at the Beachland Ballroom for the heavy, psychedelic grooves of Vancouver’s Black Mountain was sparser than expected, it was not without good reason. Hometown heroes, The Black Keys, were playing in front of a sold out crowd at the Nautica Pavilion in the Flats at roughly the same time. The crowd, the band, venue management, and band management were all quite aware of what was going on cross-town, and yet, at the same time, did their best to ignore it. When someone standing stage-left, yelled something about the Black Keys, Black Mountain were quick to spin that comment into a joke about the Black-Eyed Peas. It was one of the few times Stephen McBean, Amber Weber, and the rest of the Black Mountain Army directly addressed the crowd. On this night, they preferred to let their rock do the talking, and rock they did, with a scope uncommonly epic for a venue the Beachland’s size, and a volume you could feel in your feet.
To be clear, Black Mountain’s show wasn’t smoke machines, laser light shows, and giant inflatables moored to the side of the stage, epic. Although their music can be a grand as Pink Floyd at their grandest, they would rather hide behind dim stage lights and jam; McBean on the right with hair shadowing his thin features, laying down riffs both sticky and fierce; Jeremy Schmidt on the left, also with a healthy shag, coaxing the most kaleidoscopic sounds out of his keyboard; Matt Camirand on bass and Joshua Wells on drums, providing a rhythm one could literally feel; And Weber, standing stage center with a blue dress, leather vest, long black hair not covering her eyes (Which was an exception to the Black Mountain longhair rule), and an ethereal, fluttering voice much bigger than her size, one graced with natural re-verb, as if she could hit three notes at once, and one in direct contrast with McBean’s slackened vocal style.
Together, Black Mountain ripped. They ripped through long, dynamic jams, like the over eight-minutes long, “Tyrants,” and its multiple climax ending. They ripped through the dark mucky, murky stoner-rock of “Evil Ways,” Druganaut,” and “Don’t Run Our Hearts Around,” numbers less grandiose than “Tyrants,” but numbers just as heavy.
When they ripped they would headbang in carefully measured meters, or turn to their amps, to coax out even more volume. When they weren’t ripping, which was rare, they would settle down with an easy, folksy jam like “Stay Free,” or the trippy, wholly mesmerizing, “Wuccan,” both providing some much appreciated down-time during a night filled with killer guitar riffs. For once the air cleared, you knew what was coming next, whether it was a new song like “Old Fangs,” or the night ending, one-two of “Stormy High” and “Queens Will Play,” you knew Black Mountain would full-on rock the walls of the Ballroom, and you knew you made the right decision on this night.