Review: The Black Angels, Roky Erickson dive deep into psychedelia at the State Theatre in St. Petersburg
Psychedelia is back. Not in the way that you feel you need magic mushrooms or LSD, but in the way guitar riffs bend and bounce back in reverb, followed by the echo of lyrics you can’t quite make out but somehow understand.
That, my friends, is the sound of the Black Angels, who played to a nearly full house at the State Theatre Wednesday night. Swallowed in a swirl of feedback and hallucinatory inducing projections, the Austin, Texas rockers took St. Petersburg on a journey into Indigo Meadow, their fourth studio album, in the way a pop-up book comes to life.
Singer Alex Maas’ distorted vocals soared atop Christian Bland’s deep, digging strings in a booming version of Evil Things, and quickly plowed into album single Don’t Play with Guns. Maas’ eyes closed as he seemed to conjure up spirits from decades past as he sang, “I hear colors running through my mind / I can feel it dripping in my eyes / I see colors ancient spectrum lives,” in I Hear Colors (Chromaesthesia). You couldn’t help but think of the Rolling Stones’ Paint it Black.
Much of the gig focused on Indigo Meadow, but touched all of their albums, including a soul-raising rendition of Better Off Alone and a new song with Maas solo on the keys, bathed in kaleidoscope light.
It’s hard not to compare them to the Doors or Pink Floyd, especially when closing songs Bad Vibrations and Snake in the Grass evoked Meddle-esque atmospherics. They didn’t play in the shadow of history, but rather used it as an undercurrent to springboard their signature sound and transcend the old psychedelic wave into a New Age take peppered with layers of pulsing drums, looping keys, tantric tambourines and spiritual synths for the ultimate on-stage mind trip. And it worked with the exception of overwrought vocal effects.
Maas’ ethereal voice and the band’s powerful lyrics got lost in the wash of heavy distortion compared to the stark, stripped-down in-store performance at Daddy Kool Records earlier in the day. The band played a free five-song set (and signed autographs) at the record store, providing an intimate, magical and humble prelude to the main show. The fivesome came off unpretentious; no stage gimmicks or antics of showmanship. They let the music speak for itself.
In a sort of homage to their roots, they enlisted underground icon and psychedelic rock pioneer Roky Erickson as an opener. He packed the house early for his set with supporting band Hounds of Baskerville. Erickson’s resurgence and second life after decades on hiatus delighted much of the crowd, and he seemed to be in good spirits despite his obvious decline in wherewithal and oomph. He was a bit of a trainwreck, but somehow still endearing. A fan in the crowd likened it to Syd Barrett still being alive and getting back on stage.
Sure, psychedelic music is often associated with drugs, but the Black Angels' New Age spin on the style has pointed to their craft of making music that's smart, rather than drug-fueled. Even onstage, their trademark sound evolved into something audibly different and unpredictable for the genre. It was exciting to watch it unfurl and, in the same breath, anticipate what they’ll do next.
-- Stephanie Bolling, tbt*