Anything but Angels


Angela Conners

Black Angels

By Assistant Arts & Culture Editor

Putting on their most comfortable pair of jeans to let loose, Chicago’s mid-lifers gathered Feb. 5 to dance awkwardly to the grooving sounds of The Black Angels at Park West, 322 W. Armitage Ave.

On paper, the show was the perfect concoction for an unadulterated rock ‘n’ roll experience, but it was ultimately disappointing.  

The Austin, Texas psych-rock quartet, consisting of guitarist Christian Bland, vocalist and bassist Alex Maas, drummer Stephanie Bailey and keyboardist Kyle Hunt, has been active since 2004 and has released four full-length records. Critics gave its latest album, Indigo Meadow, released in 2013, a lukewarm reception.

In its best moments, The Black Angels are both a swift kick in the ass and a time warp; at its worst, the group is a typical garage band that lazily recycles the 1960s with mediocre results. The Black Angels lack compelling stage presence and genuine heart; simply dressing the part does not go as far as it used to. 

Taking its name from “The Black Angel’s Death Song” off The Velvet Underground’s The Velvet Underground and Nico, the band is heavily inspired by Andy Warhol’s all-black clad art rockers of old. The tried and true mix of rock cliché—heavy blues, swampy leads, fuzzy feedback and howling vocals—has a timeless appeal that comfortably works its way into every decade. 

Self-proclaimed masters of what they call, “Native American Drone ‘N’ Roll,” the Black Angels certainly do drone on and on.  

When Bland played the first low, drawn-out note to the Black Sabbath-inspired “Evil Things,” the crowd erupted in excitement. A mountainous chugging  repetitive rhythm hung heavy with the scent of marijuana. 

In a nasal cry, Maas wailed, “I once met you in the killing field/ Collecting dust, yeah, kicking up blood/ That is when we were both people/ Doing people things like collecting dreams.”

A Black Angels show is an audio-visual experience. A cyclone of saturated colors fluttered and swirled behind the band, keeping the concert interesting for the extended jams in songs such as “Entrance Song,” which itself is perfect for a high-speed lonely drive down the highway.

Truly jaw-dropping shows are both a spectacle and a conversation between the audience and the performer. While the band played the part, there was a notable disconnect between the audience and the stage. Going to Spotify and hitting shuffle on the band’s discography would have brought the same enjoyment and more clarity and the songs did not build enough momentum to synthesize into a compelling or special performance. 

That being said, the show had its highlights. Maas’ hair-raising moans in “Black Grease” rocketed out of nowhere and made audience members jump. 

“Always Maybe” had a breathtaking contrast between its two main sections. It is hauntingly murky in one moment and starkly pleasing the next. Fierce guitars drove the song forward, quickly shifting from bassy distortion to a thin and brittle tone. 

But most of the set was ill-proportioned and bogged down with repetitive, directionless jams.

Improvising works when members play off each other, but isolated and seemingly in their own worlds, The musicians failed to create any forward motion. The openers had far worse performances and a grating sound to boot. 

Golden Animals were sluggish, inarticulate and deliberately hid behind cheap, crappy feed-back echo to hide the lack of originality and the underwhelming, low quality of the group’s songs. An easy act to follow, Golden Animals essentially play the same tired rock ‘n roll The Black Angels do, rife with missed opportunities and melodic banality. Where harmonies or guitar could be, there is only negative space–a classic example of underutilizing chops. Playing the blues gets old fast, and three bands playing brooding metallic blues back-to-back is insufferable. 

What could have been an acid-painted, spellbinding evening was in reality a room full of dads in their comfortable jeans, getting stoned and propositioning younger audience members for drugs like mushrooms and LSD. The Black Angels are not a band that excels outside of the studio and they mirrored their audience in their desperate attempt to be hip.

“This is the best s–t I’ve heard in 10 years,” one fan said. “By the way, do you have anything that will make me trip?”