Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Black Angels

With Dead Meadow
At: Middle East Downstairs, Wednesday

Elsewhere in the city Halloween festivities were already underway, but music fans looking for a taste of the genuinely macabre might’ve better considered the Black Angels show at the Middle East Downstairs on Wednesday night.

Decked out in conceptual 1960s genre costumes, the Austin, Texas, psychedelic rock band delved into grisly Jim Morrison-style desert hallucinations. Songs like “Bad Vibrations’’ from the band’s third and most recent album, “Phosphene Dream,’’ undulated with the threatening cool of the dirge-era Velvet Underground, singer Alex Maas conjuring the ghastly beautiful spirit of a bearded Nico.

“Sunday Afternoon’’ darted through the rain-swept alleyways of a noir-murder mystery, with its grinding organs and heavily phased guitars. Drummer Stephanie Bailey’s kick dominated the mix, with thick, visceral beats at times locked into a hip-hop loop, or, surprisingly, a four-on-the-floor house beat, or a slowed disco ground down to half-speed by the uneasy creeping of the guitars.

In all of the Black Angels’ songs, even the fun ones, you got the sense that there was something lurking just behind you. Not that theirs is a corny, goth affect. In fact, even when they turned to seemingly poppy Troggs-like garage ripping, as on the blistering, danceable “Telephone,’’ it wasn’t done with a cartoonish retro vibe, but rather as if the band had pulled back a curtain concealing a haunted rock club where this type of music has been playing for eternity. It was Jefferson Airplane drained of the life-color, or any of a hundred forgotten acts from the “Nuggets’’ box set crawling back from the grave to lay waste to the city.

Washington, D.C.’s Dead Meadow did some spiritual conjuring of its own in a set of hypnotic, bass-forward grooves, with frontman Jason Simon torturing out scalding guitar slashes from the thick, heady swamp of sound. In long instrumental passages, the band - one of the louder three-pieces in memory - ushered the crowd on a mystical journey to the edge of the abyss, then left it to the Black Angels to push us the rest of the way through to our doom.

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