The Dropout Boogie Tour features two of today’s more prominent psychedelic rock acts: The Black Angels and Black Mountain, both of whom are touring on the heels of the release of their respective third albums. I was fortunate enough to catch the November 26th show at The Fillmore in San Francisco.
The Black Angels opened with “You On The Run.” Loping slowly in a cloud of reverb punctured occasionally by a hoop or howl, it’s a textbook example of their psych-drone sound. They followed up with “Bloodhounds On My Trail,” a more straightforward garage stomper, enabling them to pivot and then showcase a string of similarly paced tracks off the new album. Highlights included “Bad Vibrations” and “Entrance Song.” “Yellow Elevator #2,” the flagship track off the new album, in my eyes, was mysteriously (and unfortunately) truncated.
It wasn’t until roughly halfway through the set with “Black Grease” that they switched gears back to the more drawn-out, lurchy drones of their first two albums—allowing the songs to breathe. Allowing the strobe lights and highly affected vocal and guitar sounds to worm their way into your head. Allowing the mind to navigate less-traveled waters. You know . . . as good psychedelic music can.
This continued for three more songs, cumulating with “The First Vietnam War,” a track that perhaps best imbues the dark, paranoid, and vaguely revolutionary mood of their overall work. They closed their set with their hit off the new album, “Telephone,” and “Young Men Dead.”
After a brief intermission, Black Mountain took the stage and started off with a couple of the more stoner-rock-influenced tracks from the new album, “Wilderness Heart” and “Let Spirits Ride.” They then looked back to their previous album and followed up with “Wucan” and “Tyrants,” a couple of epic tracks with strong progressive rock leanings. “Tyrant”’s two-minute instrumental climax gave way to McBean and Webber quietly harmonizing with each other as the song wound down. It was really a moving transition. And now that they had the audience’s attention, they performed “Buried By The Blues,” a melancholy acoustic duet that highlighted the vocal interplay between the two.
Following “Sadie” and “Angels,” two more acoustically oriented pieces, they picked up the tempo with a trio of tracks that would have fit in on the classic rock station I listened to in my youth. They closed out the set with “No Hits,” the only track off their first album and easily the most dark and experimental. The encore was a short one, and opened with their “feel-good hit of the summer,” “The Hair Song.”
So . . . how did the two shows compare? Good question.
The Black Angels experience is more of an introverted one. The monotonous rhythm section, the effects-laden ear candy teased out of Christian Bland’s guitar, Alex Maas’s well-placed vocal accentuations . . . they’re performed less to be watched, but more to set the mood in your head as you zone out to the fog and light show. Black Mountain rely less on the trippy tricks: marginal light show, little to no fog, significantly cleaner guitar sound. In this setting you tend to focus more on the band: how the support vocalist is center stage, how the drummer speaks for the band, how the leading force behind the band prefers to quietly rock out on the side of the stage . . . and how earnest it all seems to be.
As mentioned before, both bands are touring on new albums, and it was interesting to see how they incorporated the new music into their sets. The Black Angels’ new album, while still maintaining the bad-trip thumbprint of their earlier work, leans more toward shorter, highly produced garage rock tracks. The inclusion of these tracks made the performance something of a schizophrenic one. Bland’s loose guitar style further accentuated this issue, as, by design, the newer tracks were much more structured and polished.
Black Mountain’s third release is something of a departure as well, at times blurring the line between Black Mountain and its alter ego, Pink Mountaintops. Live, however, they seamlessly managed to weave together the various aspects of the band into a rather cohesive set list, which, ultimately, is a testament to the competency of its members. When their set concluded, a friend turned to me and said that Black Mountain are stoner rock’s Fleetwood Mac. Frankly, I don’t think he’s too far off the mark.
If you’re looking for “the psychedelic experience,” hunt down The Black Angels. If a well-oiled rock-and-roll machine is what you’re after, however, look no further than Black Mountain. If you’re looking for both, well, I can’t think of a better show.
Words by Geoff Clarke