The Black Angels at the Boulder Theater
On a recent Friday night at the Boulder Theatre, I was able to join several members of Radio 1190 in an evening with Wall of Death, Hanni El Khatib, and The Black Angels. And what an evening it was.
The first act was Wall of Death, a French psyche-rock trio that offers a solid sound similar to the headlining act. Despite being only a guitarist, keyboardist, and drummer, their sound was strikingly full, and easily captivating. Between acts, I was able with talk to them at the merchandise table and could tell from their joyous moods how excited they were to be on a U.S. tour with a premier psychedelic band (it was at their first time visiting Boulder or the Rockies, and were pretty awestruck by it all). At some point, it dawned on me that Wall of Death seemed oddly familiar. Noting their ability to get the crowd moving and grooving, despite being a small first act, I suddenly realized I had seen them before, when, about 2 years ago, I happened to be in Paris for an earlier Black Angels show that they were opening. Though they are personal friends of the Black Angels, seeing a small French band for a second time, roughly 5,000 miles away on a different continent, still blows my mind.
Next up was Californian Hanni El Khatib. When compared to the other bands on the lineup, his music was less psychedelic, more straight up garage-blues-rock goodness. For the first few songs, a technical problem caused his guitar to be underpowered. But this issue actually worked to his advantage, because once this was sorted out, he managed to segue into a high-voltage wall of sound, that made his liveliness and on-stage presence even more evident, and drove the entire crowd crazy. Check out his latest single, “Family” off of the Dan Auerbach-produced album Head In The Dirt, and then imagine it turned up to 11, and perhaps you’ll have an idea of why all bystanders were suddenly electrified. That said, even after listening to his recordings, no matter what the volume, I was still caught off guard by his raw energy.
It’s hard to say what I was expecting from the Black Angels. This was not the first time I had seen them, so I realized that the previous shows would be hard to top. Whenever I see a band for a second or third time, my hope is they will be able to create the same or better atmosphere than the previous time. On this tour, their new album, Indigo Meadow, offered a multitude of songs that had the potential to really kick up their performances, and their lightshow would undoubtedly work well with their embrace of the psychedelic motif. However, considering the variation between each of their albums (look at the differences between their first two and Phosphene Dream), there was also a chance of change in their live performance (perhaps good, perhaps bad), and I braced myself for this. And separate of their performance, there was also a question of whether the audience would welcome them on the same intense level of the first time I had seen them.
After this show, I would not rule out the possibility that the Black Angels have learned how to read minds. Or, I guess the more reasonable assumption is that they have learned to read their fans like books, and know exactly how to cater to them. The lightshow was everything you would expect, especially the throwback projection of ever-transforming designs. I was particularly impressed by the order and choice of songs. Jumping back and forth between every album (particularly Phosphene Dream and Indigo Meadow), and not just saving the most memorable for last, the excitement of the fans was constantly renewed. There was never a dull point.
The diversity of the crowd astounded me. When I first heard the Black Angels would be playing at the Boulder Theater, it was hard for me to imagine a band with such a specific style attracting a large audience. Boy, was I wrong. The audience was clearly devoted (shout out to all those I saw with 1190 shirts), and visually expressed their excitement very similarly to those high-school explanations of what happens to the atoms of a water molecule when it is heated up (in other words, I was able to watch one hell of a mosh pit). Like all good concerts, the key to the atmosphere was two-way. The band delivered a calculated show that hit all the right buttons, while the crowd played their part in returning and redistributing the excitement.
It seems obvious that during most truly amazing concerts, a point like this must occur, where a band manages to the strike the right balance that causes some primal reaction in the audience, whose vivacity in turn fuels the band, creating a sort of feedback loop of awesomeness. This situation was more than prominent throughout all of the acts.
I would safely say it was a grand-ole time for all present.
Oh, and I was able to buy a bottle of the Black Angels’ very-own hot sauce “Black Grease”, and it was everything I hoped it would be. I may need to order a few more.
Be sure to catch the Black Angels this summer at Red Rocks when they open for Robert Plant and His Sensational Space Shifters on July 10th.
Review by Will Rempel, photos by Alexis Aeeng.