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Story and photos by Tony BonyataSpawned from Austin, TX, the same city that gave us the original psychedelic rockers the 13th Floor Elevators and The Golden Dawn some 45 years ago, The Black Angels continue to wave the genre's freak flag for yet another new generation.
The music laced on the band's first two efforts (2006's Passover and the fantastic phantasmagoric Directions To See A Ghost released two years later) is of a dark, droney and blissed-out breed that stitches together elements of early Jim Morrison and The Doors, The Velvet Underground (their name was, after all, derived from The Velvet's own 1967 number "The Black Angel's Death Song") and even incorporates some of the more macabre, gothic elements of Hades' own house band, Bauhaus. And while they still possess all of these elements on their third and most recent release Phosphene Dream, they also incorporate more of a direct link back to the pyschedelia-laced mid-'60s garage rock of their forefathers. The songs are tighter, punchier, more succinct and, dare I say, at times even poppier than their previous work. There's less drone and more drive to the album as a whole, which not only makes it more accessible, but also the band's strongest release to date.
The quintet, consisting of Alex Maas (lead vocals, Vox organ), Christian Bland (guitar), Stephanie Bailey (drums). Nate Ryan (guitar) and Kyle Hunt (bass, organ), descended on the cavernous, yet undeniably hip Turner Hall Ballroom in the heart of Milwaukee last week in support of Phosphene Dream. Fronted by Maas, the bearded singer kept his cool throughout the evening behind his upright organ, singing in a style that sounded eerily similar to the husky feminine voice of The Velvet Underground's Nico, while also peppering in rhythmic, trance-like shakes from his maracas on many of their numbers. Controlled feedback and otherworldly effects from the electric guitars snaked in and out of the ghostly organ sounds, while the demure Bailey hammered out thunderous tribal beats on her kit that only added to the dizzying effect.
The band ebbed and flowed through their catalog, delivering slow-burning dirges ("You On The Run" and "Science Killer") and the spaced-out Nuggets-era garage rockers from their latest album ("Haunting at 1300 McKinley" and the show-closing, amphetamine-driven crowd favorite "The Telephone"). The overall effect was dark, slightly disorienting, intoxicating and absolutely great. This is definitely one band to keep your eyes and ears on for some time to come.
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