Review: The Black Angels at the 9:30 Club, November 7

First-time contributor Ben Opipari reviews the Black Angels show at the 9:30 club November 7.

Sunday night shows are often a tough sell. Are they part of the new work week, or a continuation of the weekend? Do I get ready for Monday morning, or chill out?


Bands like the Black Angels make such questions irrelevant.

At the 9:30 Club Sunday night, the Austin five-piece put on a psychedelic haze of a show that made me scoff at anyone who'd think twice about going to see a band they like just because work is a night away.

The band, which is currently on tour with Black Mountain, formed in 2004, but their sound and look is straight from the 60s.

Their name comes from a Velvet Underground song; one of their songs was featured in a History Channel documentary on Charles Manson; and they once toured with the unheralded kings of the genre, Blue Cheer.

You don't have to look much further than the bendy lines on the cover of their new album, "Phosphene Dream," to see the influence of the decade. Even the name of the album sounds retro.

That those references have resonated with fans was evident at the 9:30 club, where there were a good amount of people who probably listened to Jefferson Airplane before the Black Angels co-opted their sonic psychedelic flair.

But the Mamas and the Papas they are not.

At a time when there's so much lo-fi, breezy indie pop, where hushed notes often reign supreme, the Black Angels were refreshingly loud. As someone who grew up on 80s metal—the good stuff, not the hairy kind— I've longed for a band who would once again make conversation at a show impossible.

The Angels were Black Sabbath and Judas Priest loud.

Drummer Stephanie Bailey, despite barely moving her shoulders, pounded on her kit with a ferocity I hadn't seen in a while. Heck, they even brought an extra tom-tom for her for a few songs just to underscore that ear-splitting effect. She was the exact opposite of John Bonham or any of those flailers.

And yet, despite the loud volume, despite the reverb and distortion that drenched every song, the sound was remarkably clear. Frontman Alex Maas' vocals were not lost in the mix of fuzzy guitars. On its lighter songs, like "Telephone," his screams channeled his inner Eric Burdon.

For the most part, the band stuck to heavier numbers with a steady, consistent tempo. Songs like "Bad Vibrations" and "Entrance Song" kept heads swiveling. And through all that, Bailey was the most compelling performer on stage, so much that it was impossible to take my eyes off her powerful drumming. Her strength can be overlooked on the bands' three releases, but not live.

Paired with smoke drenched in red spotlights and the album's psychedelic cover blown up behind the drum kit, Bailey's peerless drumming made for one trippy evening, even if it was just a late Sunday night with work just around the corner.

Ben Opipari interviews writers and songwriters on his blog, Writers on Process. He has written for the Washington Post and academic journals. Erik Maza edited this post.


Photo: Black Angels MySpace