Review + Photos | The Black Angels @ Wonder Ballroom (PDX)


Photos by Carrie Johnston

The Black Angels’ spin on 60’s psych-rock is nothing short of monumental. Jim Morrisson died too soon, but thank goodness people like Alex Maas are alive now to channel his voice and break through the haunting spectrum of sound that The Doors (Pink Floyd, Jefferson Airplane, et al) established. Their newest album, Indigo Meadows at once guides and disorients. Stephanie Baliey’s drumming leads a stampede of soldiers onward through a dizzying maze of fuzz, wobbles, and foreboding lyrics while the crushing power of it opens the mind and forces meditation. This is to say that it is doing precisely what music should do – exalting all cluttered opinions, weighty responsibilities, and tangled sentiments, letting them swirl and mutate until they are rendered absurd in its light. A moment perhaps, in the words of Grace Slick, “when logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead.”

The Black Angels have been doing psych-rock right since 2006 with their debut album, Passover. And now, marching into the future with Indigo Meadow, Maas has written moody, but not scary, lyrics while still maintaining the high hypnotic reverb levels, layering, repetition, melodies and short song styles that guided 2010’s Phosphene Dream.

All things considered, this was a near-perfect concert experience. The 21+ stipulation meant that no irritating barrier separated the wet from the dry, and somehow this made a dramatic difference in the overall crowd temperament. Everyone was happy, but not annoyingly so. The Black Angels stepped onto the darkened stage after a dramatic silence and started with “Vikings,” a down-tempo track from Passover featuring Maas’s chants against Bailey’s stark drumming. This song set the mood for the show like “The End” by The Doors set the mood for Apocalypse Now. In it, Maas recites, “Gonna see you tomorrow…On a German warplane…We’re gonna bomb you til Tuesday…”). Then, breaking the hypnosis, they exploded into “I Hear Colors.” It clambered up with the help of eerie organ melodies and entire verses unaccompanied by percussion, then crashed into each another again in the next verse until the whole song spun into a crescendo with “I don’t need nobody’s help, need nobody’s help…”

No individual band member hogged the stage or stood out as the definitive “rock-star,” even with Mass’s subtle onstage provocations (okay, he purses his lips when he sings sometimes, and does this adorable little, I don’t know… pigeon-toed “pee-pee dance” when he backs away from the mic), or Bailey’s blonde locks being tossed around by an upturned fan. The band worked seamlessly as a unit and in every movement proved themselves to be seasoned performers. They had no rehearsed onstage antics, jokes, sweet dance moves, lectures, tricks, or rapturous convulsions. Everything they had to assert was wrapped up in the music; we could take it or leave it.

If any part of the crowd was tense or distracted, it was eliminated by the middle of the show when the band played their title track, “Indigo Meadow.” By this time, even the stone-faced tough guy in the shadows had his eyes closed and head down, nodding in surrender. At the stage-front, pretty goth girls flung their hair and floated their arms up, dancing like sinister gypsy-love-children in their greatest element, sending their praise where praise is due — to a band who sings nostalgia in a nostalgia decade.