Friday’s night show at The Earl was a trip — think “Fear and Loathing”. As we were transported back in time to 1973 with the reverb soaked psychedelic rock of The Black Angels and Black Mountain we were witness to the some of the strangest cast of characters and outrageous antics that good East Atlanta Village could muster.
All the kooks in the area had decided to descend upon the little East Atlanta venue, The Earl. Maybe it was the promise of sonic and psychedelic bliss for the fiends who were seeking enhancement to their altered reality. Whatever the reason the night took on a surreal hue with the wayback machine of time warped sounds and the collection of technicolor characters.
This was a sold out show. The club was packed by the time The Black Angels hit the stage and launched into their layered soundscapes. They’ve embraced the psychedelic sounds of the past. If you didn’t know any better, and you heard them on the radio, you would swear you were listening to a classic rock group. Lead singer, Alex Maas’s, high pitched wails and wavering howls conjure up visions of Jim Morrison of The Doors. They cruised though 16 songs ranging from the upbeat to the sinister. One detraction from an overall fantastic set was the vocal levels. Maas’s vocals are incredible and it was unfortunate that didn’t come across as it should have.
So what is fueling the classic rock revival? You have bands like Wolfmother and The Raconteurs that crashed onto the scene a few years ago with their Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin howls and reverberating chords that hail back to the days of the 60’s cultural revolution of Vietnam era disaffection and anti-establishment sentiment. That was a time where music took center stage within the political theater of the day. What we may be witnessing is a return to that disillusionment and mode of expression. Sonic echoes and fuzzed out chords, retrofitted for a new era. It is evident in songs like The Black Angel’s “Young Men Dead” that the same themes of discord spurred by sending young soldiers off to die in an unjust war are shared by both these times and our recent past — it was Vietnam and now it’s Iraq . The malcontent around the Iraq war is a mirror to the same disenchantment around our US involvement in Vietnam. So it follows that as the political climate produces an analog of the past in present time the same goes for the musical extensions that so naturally and organically bloom now from similar sources of youth angst.
Black Mountain delivered sonic reverb, echoes, and laser beam synthesizer sounds. Their set consisted of fewer songs than The Black Angels but they managed to touch on all three of their albums. They went on some fairly long tangents with chord progressions and meandering melodies dragging out a song that was usually four minutes long to close to twice that. They jammed on with energetic abandon sending wave after wave of tightly packed and richly layered chords, synth, and drum beats. They demonstrated their instrumental skills. For the jam band enthusiasts this would be a welcome treat but for those who see the value in the four minute song may find this just a bit drawn out and maybe even a little boring. Like with The Black Angels the vocals were overpowered by the cacophonous instrumentation. It was hard to hear female vocalist Amber Webber. With her long, straight brown hair and soulful vocals it was easy to draw comparisons to Janis Joplin. But her voice and the levels her mic were set at couldn’t compete with the loudness of the band. Also of note was her serious lack of stage presence. She didn’t look comfortable, she was stiff and barely moved around the stage. She needs to show more enthusiasm.
The music was not the only form of entertainment that night. A pair of well enough meaning hecklers in the form of two very drunk guys locked into position right up in front of the stage. They commenced shouting at the roadies and band members. One guy, who’ll be referred to as Vincent since he looked liked a shorter version of Vincent Gallo, had some definite opinions on the members of the bands, and spoke of having seen them in Asheville just the other night. He shouted at the roadies like he was old pals with them, not sure how welcome that all was, but the roadies just smiled through it. He fixated on one roadie in particular who he said was from Amsterdam but unfortunately didn’t have any weed — Vincent was looking for marijuana. He certainly didn’t need any other substances, the guys was pounding back beers and shots and was tripping on acid.
Vincent informed me who was the heart of the band in the case of The Black Angels hands down, according to him, it was the drummer Stephanie. Shouting “Thank you Stephanie!” as she exited the stage after the set. It is true that she deserves the praise, she is a phenomenal drummer, powerful and precise, but the other members of the band are on equal footing.
His partner in crime was a younger, taller guy with has a dumb smile pasted onto his face who swayed back and forth over into the stage and who at one point looked like he was going to vomit on the monitors. Meanwhile Vincent looked worse for wear, leaning on the amps like he was about to pass out. These characters could have ruined the night for some as they were a ridiculous distraction. But it put a smile on my face as they were an amusement.
The Black Angels set list
You on the Run
Bloodhounds on My trail
The Sniper at the Gates of Heaven
Haunting at 1300 McKinley
Yellow Elevator #2
Young Men Dead
The First Vietnamese War
Better Off Alone
Black Mountain set list
Let Spirits Ride
Buried By the Blues
Photos: Shaun Flagg & Josh O’Connor