The lights went black and The Black Angels’ backdrop lit up like a kaleidoscope, the perfect counterpart to the house’s array of yellows and purples. When the band took the stage at College Street Music Hall in New Haven, a no-frills aura encircled them as they dove head first into bluesy garage riffs peppered with psychedelic blips. The trippy visuals on screen were the perfect accompaniment to the band’s relaxed, but pointed presence. The juxtaposition between the music and the visuals was something to behold, alternating between harmonious and contradictory, yet always transfixing the audience. In a nutshell, a Black Angels show is a searing display of rock prowess, yes, but it’s also a state of mind.
Last year’s Death Song was the first full-length release from the Austin five-piece in four years. Recorded during the election, the album is an emotional rollercoaster, a purging of anxieties and unease that were plaguing our country then and now. This rebellious, protest-heavy attitude on record was indicative of the band’s persona and performance. On stage, they exhibited a calculated cool without overextending the attempt. Their signature sound said everything the lyrics didn’t. From fuzzy guitars that sliced through the smoke to the pulsating beat of Stephanie Bailey’s empowered drums, the band’s murky mystery felt almost dreamlike, offering a hallucinogenic stroll through relationship dysfunction, anti-war politics and other societal strife. Seemingly, The Black Angels exist as if the 60s never ended.
Live, the band blurred the lines between bluesy southern-inspired rock and psychedelia. Guitarist Christian Bland’s riffs were shrouded in reverb, harmonized with other guitars and bass from the rest of the band. Alex Maas’ echoing, commanding howl had no problem cutting through the noise, which says a lot comsidering the tribal beats Bailey was pounding out.
The 18-song set touched upon most of the band’s catalogue, leaning heavily on Death Song and definitely not ignoring their powerful 2006 debut Passover. Though the encore ending “Bloodhounds on my Trail” felt a bit anticlimactic, the tamer ending didn’t throw the band’s reign as one of the leaders in modern psych-rock into question. The show remained spacey while eschewing psychedelic tropes; heavy in sound, yet acerbic in message.