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Black Angels - Forum, London, 22/9/2017

  by Chris O'Toole

published: 31 / 10 / 2017

Black Angels - Forum, London, 22/9/2017


Chris O'Toole finds much-acclaimed psychedelic rockers the Black Angels unconvincing at a gig at the Forum in London.

It’s a strange feeling when you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs. Especially if that is the opposite of what the situation requires. But that was my experience of witnessing the Black Angels at the London Forum in late 2017. While the capacity crowd about me held their arms aloft, swaying in time to the intense, 1960's-rooted psychedelia, I couldn’t for the life of me work out why. Perhaps it is me? It certainly doesn’t seem to be the band, who have gone from also-rans to headline act over the course of five albums. The latest, 'Death Song', (which takes its name from the Velvet Underground’s 'Black Angel’s Death Song', playing as they walk out onto the stage) is the most critically revered of them all and there is palpable excitement in the air before the show. Indeed, the band have such bona fide credentials that two of their number co-founded Levitation Festival in 2008, and have grown it into one of the best-reviewed and expertly-curated events in the USA. They are also something close to standard-bearers for modern psych-rock, touring with Queens of the Stone Age, Brian Jonestown Massacre, the Black Keys and others in recent years, and visiting the UK this time around as triumphant headliners of the Liverpool Psych Fest. 'Death Song' was recorded in large part during the recent election of Donald Trump as American president, with the group claiming it serves as “part protest and part emotional catharsis in a climate dominated by division, anxiety and unease”. No pressure, then. Tonight they open with ‘Currency’, the first track from the new album, and give a good account of themselves. It’s dark, brooding, and suitably atmospheric, but it also sees the Austin five-piece slip into a groove they then rarely leave for the rest of the evening. Drawing heavily from their new 11-track collection, the Black Angels pummel away thereafter, offering their take on menacing fuzz guitar and swirling drone, while front man Alex Maas examines the customary themes of political decline, alienation, boredom, and despair in the foregrounded lyrics. But their sound would better suit a smaller location, making it possible to truly lose oneself in the experience. Sure, a giant screen provides the requisite hallucinatory visuals, and indeed outshines the band at times, but can something be truly psychedelic if it only last four minutes? Can you open your mind to new experiences if the song stops and starts again, along the same lines, each time? If the crowd can raise their hands and clap along, is this really the unflinching examination of the human psyche promised? For many in the venue, the answer was a resounding yes. For others, not so much.

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Black Angels - Forum, London, 22/9/2017

Black Angels - Forum, London, 22/9/2017

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