Over the Weekend: Black Mountain, Black Angels Kessler Theater
Black Mountain, Black Angels Kessler Theater November 20th, 2010
Black Mountain at SXSW
Mark C. Austin
Better than: seeing Laser Floyd while sober.
For those lucky to get into the sold out Black Mountain/Black Angels show, they witnessed probably one of the best shows of the year.
Yes, it was that good.
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There was no opening act for a crowd that had more attendees aged 35 and older than those under 25. Black Mountain came onto the stage a few minutes after 9 and owned the packed crowd on the floor and balcony. As soon as the first song kicked in, the many heads in the crowd started bopping up and down. And that would be a constant sight for the rest of their set.
What greatly helped the band's hour-plus set was that the sound in the Kessler was absolutely perfect. You could argue that the keyboards were a little too loud early into Black Mountain's set, but you could hear everything. From the biggest pounding of a drum to the lightest vocal touch, all things coming from the stage sounded crystal clear.
Devoting most of their set half-and-half to In the Future and their latest Wilderness Heart, along with a couple of songs from their self-titled debut, there was very little to complain about. Songs like "Let Spirits Ride," "Old Fangs" and "Angels" felt like small earthquakes, but "Tyrants" from In the Future received the best reception. With its length of eight-plus minutes, those who weren't completely grabbed by the band had to be at this point. Every song received wild applause, but that one brought in the loudest.
Lead vocalist Amber Webber stood in stage center, looking like a cousin to Susan Dey. Her voice carried incredibly well and her four bandmates were as strong on their respective instruments.
Plus, of all the classic rock influences the band openly shows, the only one that seems truly detectable was early Pink Floyd. Yet the band never came across as derivative or phony. A truly wonderful interpretation of influences rather than a forced replication.
The Black Angels managed to trump their appearance at NX35 earlier this year. Which was no small feat, mind you.
With a set featuring a lot of tunes from their superb 2010 release, Phosphene Dream, the Austin five-piece never took a wrong turn. The great stage sound that afforded Black Mountain to come fully across was still intact.
Between 10:45 and midnight, the songs zipped by. A lot of credit has to go to drummer Stephanie Bailey, a thumper of a player, even if her beats are kept to the basics. Lead vocalist and occasional bassist Alex Maas kept his usual low profile as his voice snaked around the room.
"Telephone" served as their final song of the set, but the crowd demanded an encore with clapping, yelling, and stomping on the wood floor. The band quickly came back and towered with one of the best songs, "Young Men Dead."
You could argue there have been better shows in the area this year, but it's inarguable that both bands did not disappoint.
Critic's Notebook Personal bias: This was the fourth (and best) time I've seen the Black Angels. Not to brag, but the first time I saw them was at an art gallery in Fair Park. Given the limited sound from the P.A., the band sounded like a boring wash of haze. I'm glad the band has vastly improved with age.
Random note: Chris Penn DJ'd between sets and played music apropos for the entire night. Whether it was "Porpoise Song" by the Monkees or the Zombies' "Hung Up on a Dream," CP did a great job.
By the way: I'm glad locals White Mountain didn't open the show. Imagine trying to get that straight on press materials.
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