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Black Angels and The Laurels, The Metro – 01/07/2011

Written by Dion Ford on 4th July, 2011

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The Dreamy, psychedelic Austin reverb masters Black Angels are a band that seemed to have existed on the fringes of alternative success for a while now. Their first album Passover is a cracker, Directions to see a Ghost follows in similar footing and, to put it simply, Phosphine Dream rules. Slowly yet surely they’ve made the transition from mix tape; community radio championed; have you heard; check out this record to; a band playing packed out Metro Theatre Shows. Either my taste isn’t as obscure as I liked to think or Sydney’s long standing affirmations of all things noise/fuzz/stoner/psych related is still in full swing…hey, maybe it’s both.

Speaking of Sydney, tonight’s crowd was warmed up by The Laurels. As I sauntered up the Metro stairs, I thought to myself, how many people would be there early to see them? Sure, they’re a consistently excellent band, but it’s a $60 show and they’re on at 8.30. The answer to that is – heaps of people.

In fact, I’ve seen headlining bands play this stage to smaller audiences than these guys. I’m also hoping that seeing the Laurels playing really loud and mixed well through a whopping sound system will be awesome. It was. Not meaning to detract from small venues, cause, you know, I love ‘em, but there’s something about hearing a band like this amplified through a giant PA that highlights the intricacy of their sound, from reverberated snare drum hits to fuzz-wah guitar explosions that just pleases me to no end. Judging by their performance, and the number of punters heads firmly directed at the stage, you better get used to these big stages dudes.

Joel Gion of Brian Jonestown Massacre fame was the main support, spinning his favourite tunes with the aid of an occasional tambourine bash. It was cool, some nice 60s garage nuggets in there, but probably more suited to a small club or beer garden than the Metro stage. The guy obviously knows a ton of good tracks. I saw him digging through records at Amoeba Music in San Fran when I was there. It’s one of the best record stores on the planet and as it turns out he works there. But again, most people seemed to be more concerned with lining up for $8 beers or perusing the merch stand.

The lights go down, wafts of a particular type of smoke emanate upwards from all areas of the crowd, and the 5 Black Angels take the stage, the opening line of the droned out epic Young Men Dead from Passover echoing out for a few bars before the wall of guitars washes over us like a some kind of warm ‘shroom blanket. Instantaneously, heads started slowly rocking in time to the beat (What is this, like the internationally recognised way of dancing to psych music? I’ve been doing it myself for the last six years and only just realised ‘Whoa! Everyone does this! It’s like, a thing’).

It was a good cross section of their material, with a fair whack of all three albums on show. The more radio-friendly numbers like Telephone actually sat quite well amongst the more drone-like, meandering freak-outs that got people talking about Black Angels to begin with. These guys essentially are still a garage band, and beneath the controlled chaos, (one song had 3 guitars and an organ at once… yeah!) the songs have structure, harmony and hooks. Manipulation was a personal highlight for me, and Joel Gion appeared onstage to bash around the tambourine for this number, and stuck around for a few more.

Probably the most well known of their songs, Better Off Alone and You On The Run were saved for the encore to much crowd approval, especially from the guy right at the front of the stage who celebrated by elevating his coat on some kind of stick. Hey, if it feels good….

The band was tight, the sound was good, and really it’s no surprise these underground heroes are playing shows of this size. Oh, and it was their first time to Australia. So you know, don’t leave it so long next time guys!

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