The Black Angels - Live Review - Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

The Black Angels - Live Review - Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

by Mils / Mar 08, 2023 / 0 comments
Friday, 3 March 2023

The Black Angels create a fully immersive, deeply hypnotic experience in Shepherd’s Bush Empire with their fuzzed-out Texas take on psych-rock.

The Black Angels have never hidden their influences. Named after a Velvet Underground song, they even namecheck the band’s members ⁠— alongside other guiding voices like Syd Barrett and Arthur Lee — on The River. A gentle ’60s folk acid trip, it’s one of 11 tracks from latest album Wilderness Of Mirrors performed during a mesmerising show that celebrates both their own legacy and those pioneers of psychedelia who made their career possible.

Of course, the psych-rockers do this through the music, which might variously (and lazily) be described as trippy, woozy, and hypnotic. But it’s also in the wholly immersive staging. The films projected onto the screen behind the band feature everything from liquid light shows, kaleidoscopic flowers, and patterns of bendy squares to the kind of warped, distorted footage you might see if you watched a stretched VHS tape. Apart from sudden strobe strikes, the lighting is low and moody, as if to transfer the audience’s attention from the individual band members and back to the music itself. The gaps and banter between songs are kept to a minimum, as if to avoid breaking their spell.

The Black Angels: Shepherd's Bush Empire, London – live reviewIt’s a mood set by opener Tamar Aphek. Backed by a drummer, bassist, and synth player, her “jazz and roll” contrasts trance-like global grooves and gauzy vocals with the sudden intense outbursts of her impressive electric guitar playing. Crossbow (which ends with an especially fiery solo) and Too Much Information (a sweet dream that morphs into an unsettling waking nightmare punctuated by complex polyrhythms and surprising textures) are particular highlights of a set closely aligned with the headliners’ vibe.

Stepping on to the Shepherd’s Bush Empire stage to a classic instrumental version of The Last Time (as sampled by The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony) and singer Alex Maas’ no-nonsense greeting “We’re The Black Angels from Austin, Texas”, they immediately settle into the urgent You On The Run. El Jardin, the new album’s stomping first single, follows with its plea from Mother Earth for protection. The ever evolving Icon makes space for guitarist Christian Bland (all twang on this track) and phenomenal drummer Stephanie Bailey (both power and restraint) to shine, before the fuzzed-out History Of The Future makes way for the jangly Grab As Much (As You Can). Although the beanied Maas’ voice sounds less distinct than on the studio recording, his hazier vocals add to the overall effect The Black Angels are creating tonight. These are songs to get lost in.

The Black AngelsThe droney Manipulation, with Bland handling the spoken verses, could be described as stoner rock, were it not so subtle and nuanced, while Firefly (a breathy ‘60s French pop homage) really drives home the precision and flexibility of the five musicians on stage. The buzzing desert heat haze of Without A Trace gets the blood pumping once more. But, of the new songs, the gritty garage rocker Empires Falling is the most immediate. With its buzzing guitars, incessant bassline, pummeling drums, and investigation of, what the band call “humanity’s repetitive art of violent mass destruction”, the track’s guaranteed to become a live staple alongside fan favourites like Entrance Song (all doom and cataclysm tonight), the sinister Sister Ray-worshipping march of Young Men Dead, grimey adrenaline rush Bloodhounds On My Trail (featuring multi-instrumentalist Ramiro Verdooren on accordion), and the shoegazey apocalypse that is Black Grease (further scuzzed up by guitarist Jake Garcia).

With songs like these, and a career now spanning all the way back to 2004, The Black Angels are so much more than the sum of their influences. “Nico, Lou, and Stirling too”, to pull some names out of The River, could only be impressed.

Rating out of 11: