Live Review: The Black Angels @ Rock’n’Roll Hotel, July 2

As it usually does, the drive up to DC from Richmond took a little longer than expected, so as I was walking into the Rock’n’Roll Hotel, the Warlocks’ equipment was being loaded off the stage. I was a little sad not to have seen them, but at the same time I was a woman on a mission. It would appear the Black Angels have grown in popularity since last I saw them, which is great for them but bad for the late-arriving, vertically-challenged amongst us.

When the five space cadets from Austin ambled onto the stage, it seemed that as soon as they touched their instruments a wall of sound began to fill the room, and it would only get louder. To give you an idea, I didn’t wear earplugs, and my ears were still ringing at lunchtime the day after the show. Up first on the set list was the deviantly good “Manipulation,” so droning and so loud I felt like the music was this wave that seeped into every pore. Despite slight volume issues with his mic initially, singer Alex Maas absolutely shredded his vocals, adding extra passion into his vocal parts to play against guitarist Christian Bland’s slightly more controlled vocals. It didn’t take me long to rank this show as a tie for my second-best of the year, and when the lyric “You got the FBI/they ain’t on your side” came up, from second song “You On the Run,” I had my reaffirmation that what I was witnessing was very, very special. What better place to hear that line than in DC?

“The Sniper at the Gates of Heaven” was next, and though it’s always been one of my favorite Black Angels songs, tonight it was even better than the hundreds of times I’ve listened to it. The guitar was extra wicked and almost a little raunchy, and Maas’ flat delivery seemed a tad venomous. It was a spooky little piece of psych rock, played against a backdrop of some sort of projections (again, I said my time there was mostly aural, I couldn’t see much of anything) that swirled and danced across the back of the stage and over the band members. I leaned against the wall during the emphatically excellent “Mission District” and noticed it throbbing from the beautiful noise.

O, sweet fuzzy guitar, how I love you; “Black Grease” was extra fuzzy on this night, and was definitely an audience favorite. I looked at the band, and what I saw was one of the best (and, frankly, best-looking) bands I’ve seen in quite some time. The first time I saw them was no fluke, they really are goddamned amazing. “Doves” was the best I’ll probably ever hear it played, a shimmering fiery mess of time and space and sound. Before launching into the song, Maas thanked the Warlocks, and said something about them being an inspiration (at this point in the night when people weren’t singing they tended to sound like Mickey Mouse, and I couldn’t make out words very well. Always wear earplugs, kids).

“Science Killer” was unbelievably good, the bass louder and the drums pounded into the furthest reaches of oblivion. It, and the rest of the show, was an intense experience. A triumphant “Young Men Dead” was next in line, even more mesmerizing in its’ drone than on the album Passover. As was the rest of the packed room, I was completely entranced. They’re like pied pipers, leading us into the great sonic promised land. “Surf City (revisited)” followed, according to the set list, though I could have sworn I heard "Empire" instead, and they closed out the set with the extended version of the already-lengthy “Never/Ever,” delicious in its far out schizophrenia.

After a brief moment offstage doing the expected pre-encore buildup, the Black Angels came back and played a rousing rendition of “The Return,” and while Bland was “oooh ooh-ing” I realized once more how good this band has become. The final song of the evening was another from new album Directions to See a Ghost, “You in Color.” The frantic jamming was raw to the point of pain, but in the best way. And then, they were gone, leaving hundreds of happy hipsters to flood the streets of DC, ears buzzing and smiles on their faces.

In closing, I’d like to urge you to see this band whenever possible. I'm thinking of following them around the country on their tour, instead of being a Dead Head I'll be an Angel Head. They are the real deal, and I love them to pieces.


  1. Great review! I used it to bolster my post with a live tape of the Black Angels show from July 6th...


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