Sunday, November 11, 2007

the black angels w. a place to bury strangers @ bowery ballroom, 11/7/07

i was so impressed by passover, the black angels' full length debut, that i was seriously considering thinking about going to see them open for queens of the stone age at madison square garden last month. i decided not to, mostly because the tickets were forty bucks and i didn't really care about seeing qotsa again, but the real wisdom of that decision wasn't clear to me until last night, when the black angels headlined a sludge fest at bowery ballroom. featuring fellow led zeppelin devotees spindrift and hotly hyped a place to bury strangers, the night was loud, and, ultimately, disappointing.

from their first note, the reason that spindrift was on this tour was blindingly obvious: they and the black angels play such a similar brand of neo-psychedelic medal that they were nearly the same band. spindrift even borrowed a black angel to round out their band, affirming the similarity. though spindrift rocked, rumbled, and churned with the same intensity (and much to the same effect) as the black angels later would, one thing proved these were not the same bands in disguise: instead of borrowing native american rhythms and iconography, as the black angels are wont to do, spindrift, based in southern california, had adopted the stylized melodies of the spanish conquistadores as their foundation. spindrift was mostly instrumental - drums, two guitars, keys, guitarbass, and the borrowed christian bland on maracas - though some songs featured surprisingly tender vocals from spindrift frontman kirpatrick thomas. tender in tone only though; thomas avoided speaking actual words, preferring to emit something between a murmur and a howl. more primeval than the black angels (and extremely hirsute), spindrift suggested the kind of music neolithic men and women would have played, and thomas's vocalizing added to this effect. they also played one really cool song with a harmonica.

the night featured a reverse dancing trend - very interesting. there were several people dancing during spindrift's set, and rightly so. the black angels tip the scale towards metal a little more than jefferson airplane, but spindrift's ties to the 60s are a little clearer, and people responded to that, with dancing. a place to bury strangers, more visceral and fuzzy, meant fewer dancers, though the more committed ones continued, but the meandering, flat jams of the black angels quelled the dancing. it was almost sad.

second up, a place to bury strangers totally stole the show. their visceral show featured swirling and charged visuals, as like the photo. because of the projection, the stage was nearly black for most of the set, until a strobe light from the floor illuminated everything. aptbs's set, for me, was an package experience; totally unfamiliar with anything about them, i was very happily a blank slate for their show. aided by the indistinct visuals (nothing identifiable like peoples or shapes), their churning, gloriously heavy rock turned into a circle of sound, marked by crescendos and decrescendos. i saw and heard guitarist oliver ackermann singing, but it blended in with the music in the haze of distortion, and the whole experience was almost out-of-body - the most successful noise rock experience i've ever had. unfortunately, after a while, the deafening loudness canceled itself out, but their show was great up until the very end. the last eight or ten minutes of their set, accompanied by the strobe lights, aptbs embarked on a epic metal jam, during which i kind of lost interest in the music, so i watched the drummer. jono MOFO, the drummer, is fucking crazy. he could easily pass as andre the giant's midget brother, still towering over his bandmates, furiously and happily beating the shit out of his drumkit. he was awesome.

the whole time the black angels played, i couldn't figure out whether they had the worst stage presence ever, or whether they were trying to up their mystique. i don't know if they expected to smell more acrid smoke than they did, or were attempting to live up to their motto "turn on, tune in, drone out," except with more droning. though their music was less psychedelic and more plodding, the black angels tried to time travel by playing stock vietnam footage from 1972 and projection pseudo-trippy images. it made me wonder whether bands are creating visuals so they don't have to have a stage presence. needless to say, the black angels have clearly chosen that route.

much of passover's attraction was in the lyrics of singer alex maas - fervently anti-war and reactionary, they provided a verbal foundation for the drones of the band. however, maas bumped up the reverb on the mic up to "indistinguishable," so that nearly everything he sang was just a haze of sound. lacking even the most basic physical connection to their sound, the black angels stood on the stage, moving only occasionally. playing with a blunt intensity yet obvious ambivalence, the black angels lack anything that passes as a "show." unwilling to watch the band, i stared at the projection and listened to the music, which also turned out to be a mistake. maybe i had just never noticed it before, but the black angels were really aimless. flat jams appealed to neither the neo-psychedelics nor the metal fans, and were overwhelmingly unsatisfying. the black angels droned to their hearts' content - good for them, bad for us.

here's a song by a place to bury strangers:

the black angels - "the first vietnamese war"

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