A favourite compulsion of human-animals is the grand proclamation of the Death of Something. Some have been made with good cause (for example God), while others have been a little more dubious (for instance, History). In a week that saw the erstwhile plum, puckered, lips of Sir Mick Jagger ask in innocent perplexity why Margaret Thatcher was so posthumously castigated by a host of commentators, it was perhaps time to officially admit that there is no place for a street-fighting man, and to finally kill, bury, and cremate Rock ‘N’ Roll. However, reports of Rock’s death will seem greatly exaggerated to anyone who visited the Enmore Theatre last Saturday and saw The Black Angels perform.
The standard précis of The Black Angels is that they are the exponents of a revived Austin, Texas psychedelic rock scene, who took their name from a Velvet Underground masterpiece and approximated its aural hysteria with the 60’s innovations of the 13th Floor Elevators. But those who underwent a psychic defibrillation upon purchasing The Black Angels debut masterpiece Passover will have noticed a quote by the great expressionist Edvard Munch that suggests the genuine provenance of the band’s name: “Illness, insanity, and death are the black angels that kept watch over my cradle and accompanied me all my life”.
In the face of mass-culture’s obsession with security, The Black Angels are intent on engaging with rock ‘n’ roll’s historically threatening thematic bedfellows. Their music has revivified themes of the mind’s expanded awareness in its chemical decomposition, hinted at in Morrison’s ‘Break on Through’ and found at the core of the psychedelic ethos. They flirt with speculative metaphysics a la ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’-era Beatles to mount an artistic challenge against a social reality that confines the mind . Unlike the preponderance of bands that blur the increasingly obsolete distinction between mainstream and alternative, The Black Angels do not hide the truth that this is a world replete with reminders of our own finitude. And unlike most bands, they were and are pissed off by such events as the Iraq War, mounting a challenge to a generation that seems to see a social conscience as passé.
This is the second Australian tour by The Black Angels and they’re here to promote their excellent 4th LP Indigo Meadow. Though their originality is best on display on the bellowing, minimalist drones of Passover, over the course of their discography the band has moved beyond the diatonic, modal songs that invoked Peyote-induced shamanism and begun to experiment with more chords, in defiance of Lou Reed’s quip that “two chords is great, but three chords and you’re into jazz”. Their patent drone sound has been meshed with surf rock and unabashed pop tracks like ‘You’re Mine’ and ‘Telephone‘ . The set was audaciously comprised of a lot of Indigo Meadow, including the lead single ‘Don’t Play with Guns’, a classic pop hook and pertinent repudiation of senseless violence. In truth, Indigo Meadow contains some of singer Alex Maas’ less inspired lyrics, but the entire set was hauled by the indisputable groove of Stephanie Bailey’s drumming and the craftsmanship of the songs, in particular ‘Bad Vibrations’ and the classic ‘Young Men Dead’. The encore featured the bluesy ‘Bloodhounds On My Trail’ which pulsated with libidinal exuberance, while the extended lysergic jam on “Black isn’t Black” capped a night full of rock ‘n’ roll’s waning promise.