Austin’s psych gods The Black Angels returned to Brooklyn Steel to celebrate the release of their first record in almost four years, ironically entitled Death Song, after playing the same location just shy of a year ago, which was just after the initial release of the album. It is almost as though the deities’ modern space psych trances have been reborn for a second time, coming back like a burning phoenix from the ashes fittingly just in time for the Passover and Easter holiday. There is a certain magical happenstance to their latest holy resurrection, as it feels they are finally receiving the deserved accolades as one of the holiest leaders of the scene along sides the likes of Tame Impala, King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard, and Temples, and the flocking fans really have really come in droves to worship at the altar of their wild hallucinogenic travels.
Atlanta’s own righteously tripped-out garage rock band supreme by the name of Black Lips opened the show, and it was clear that many in the audience were also devout followers of them, as well. That’s not all that surprising considering they also follow a rich path of classic spaced-out 70’s psychedelic rock, but with a more 80’s skater punk edge, and that they also hit it big around the same mind-altering days of the mid 00’s. They had been at it for quite a while now, but it has been a long wait for fans since their last album Underneath the Rainbow was released several years back, and they have definitely gone through some changes to make their return happen. The core fronting duo of guitarist Cole Alexander and bassist Jared Swilley are still front and center to bring out the crazed ruckus in the crowd, but guitarist Ian St. Pe has been replaced by Jack Hines, founding drummer Joe Bradley has been replaced with Oakley Munso, and there is the further addition of saxophonist and keyboardist Zumi Rosow to take things up a notch.
Their eighth studio album, Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art?, was (like the headliner) also released almost a year back, and it was produced by Sean Lennon and featured guest vocals from his mom, Yoko Ono. That album was an expansive and heady break from their youthful and raw psych freak outs, snarling punk growls, and their down-home country croonings, but they have definitely not lost their “fuck it” skater ‘tude that was still in full display for this show. Some of that rebellious zeal was helped out by the horde, like the swirling moshpit in the center of the floor really helped supply some of their ol’ Lips defiance, and some fans even snuck some toilet paper in from the bathroom to have them hocked back and forth from the stage throughout their set, liberally teepeeing the whole venue from the top of the rafters and massive fans above, down to covering the sopping wet floor by the end of the set. It really all zapped me back to my first time at seeing them several years back some CMJ show and getting hit upside the head with a half full beer can as well getting a boot to the head from a crowd surfer, which, in other words, equaled a classically unforgettable punk show, and I had a wildly great time. They didn’t play “Bad Kids” or “Not A Problem” this time around, which was a stone-cold bummer, as both of which are big all-time favs of mine, but they did play other classics like “O Katrina!” and “Dirty Hands,” and I must admit I did get into their new stuff a lot more than I had initially.
The Black Angels came out with draped in the hypnotizing graphics of their projected light show (designed by the immensely talented Bob Mustachio) that have been as much of a staple of the concerts as their smooth-yet-garage, spell-bindingly mesmerizing, and drone-heavy sound. They exemplify the 60’s psych/garage of bands like The 13th Floor Elevators (they’ve even backed their frontman Roky Erickson several years back) as well as the stark darkness of The Velvet Underground (which of course is their namesake), and they personify the guitar kick of early 70’s bands like MC5, and gestate in the humming hypnosis of late 70’s Krautrock like Can and Kraftwerk, but they have been playing with more pop tones as of recent as well that has definitely widened their appeal. The band worked together so perfectly you may have thought they really were the divine, as Alex Maas’ ethereally chiming vocals drew you in like sailors drawn to the rocks by the Siren’s song, Christian Bland’s guitar virtuosity were like angels ascending to the heavens, and the pounding tribal drum work of Stephanie Bailey felt as though the devils pulling you down below, a holy battle of which was enveloped in a thick blanket of reverb to help with that truly enchanted mood.
They played many of their best-known songs right up in the early part of their set, with the likes of “Young Men Dead” (which was a perfect song to open with for Passover), “I’d Kill for Her,” and “Dead Half Believing” getting the packed hall straight into full trance mode before they even had the chance to mentally stray. It has been a long time since I first caught these divinities of psych play an early morning show at the tiny Mercury Lounge almost a decade ago, but they have never ceased evolving and finding new ways to infatuate the masses.
Article: Dean Keim