Friday, April 20, 2018
The Bowery Presents South: The Black Angels with special guest The Black Lips
at Civic Theatre
7PM - Doors
8PM - Show
Tickets are ON-SALE NOW - civicnola.com
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THE BLACK ANGELS
Stephanie Bailey: drums, percussion, Philicorda
Christian Bland: guitar, Mellotron, bass, vocals, Vox Continental
Jake Garcia: guitar, bass, vocals
Kyle Hunt: bass, guitar, organ, Moog, Rheem MK VII
Alex Maas: lead vocals, bass, harmonium
"If you're going to sing something, it might as well be something important," reflects The Black Angels' Alex Maas.
That ethos is the pulsing heartbeat of 'Death Song,' the Austin neo-psych rockers' first new album in four years and their most fully realized work to date. Written well before the vitriolic election cycle and the uncertainty left in its wake, these songs now form an uncanny soundtrack to our modern American climate of division and anxiety, wrapping up the personal and the political into dense layers of provocative insight. Part protest, part emotional catharsis, this is a troubled record for troubled times, and in that sense, it's classic Black Angels.
"Our music has always been driven by the fear of the unknown and what's to come," explains Maas. "Growing up in Texas, in the Bible Belt, you'd have this feeling as a kid in church on Sundays that your whole entire world was just hanging by a string."
On 'Death Song,' the band explores what happens when that string snaps. Volatile, fuzzed-out guitars and crashing percussion meet swirling, reverberating vocals in a cinematic tempest of distrust and disgust. Attraction and self-loathing, greed and desire, faith and brutality are all intertwined, as the lyrics explore the kind of timeless questions that have dogged mankind for eternity. How much ugliness are we willing to perpetuate in the quest for beauty? Can we ever truly share what's inside of our hearts? How long can we subject ourselves to the same self-destructive cycles before everything comes collapsing down around us?
"We're just observers,' says guitarist Christian Bland. "We reflect back what we see in the world like a mirror, and hopefully that helps open up people's minds and eyes to the issues that are important to us."
Produced by Phil Ek (Father John Misty, Fleet Foxes, The Shins), 'Death Song' is without a doubt The Black Angels' most political record since their 2006 debut LP, 'Passover.' Hailed as "the most powerful album of the year" in an NPR roundup by KEXP's John Richards, 'Passover' hit like "a time warp to the underground anti-establishment songs of the late 60's" and introduced the band as the "undisputed avatars of contemporary psychedelic rock," according to Austin City Limits. It's a title they more than lived up to over the ensuing decade, releasing a string of critically acclaimed albums and building up a massive international fanbase. Billboard praised the "quantum power" of 2008's 'Directions To See A Ghost,' while Rolling Stone raved that it combined "the drilling guitars of early Velvet Underground shows, the raga inflections of late-show Fillmore jams, [and] the acid-prayer stomp of…the 13th Floor Elevators." The band cracked the Top 100 on the Billboard charts for the first time with 2010's 'Phosphene Dream,' which the BBC called the "rock album of the year," and followed it up in 2013 with "Indigo Meadow," produced by fellow Texan John Congleton and exalted by Mojo for "perfectly [balancing] melody with noise."
While the band's studio discography earned rapturous attention, their live show elevated the music to new and ecstatic heights. On stage, The New York Times said, they "play psychedelic rock as if the 1960's never ended, and they are absolute masters of it." The band toured with everyone from The Black Keys and Queens of the Stone Age and Wolfmother, in addition to backing psych pioneer Roky Erickson, taking over the airwaves with electrifying television performances on Letterman, Conan, and ACL, and slaying festival crowds at Coachella, Bonnaroo, Glastonbury, Lollapalooza, Fuji Rock, Primavera, and more. As if performing wasn't enough, The Black Angels co-founded their own festival called Levitation (formerly Austin Psych Fest), which has grown into one of the best-reviewed and most expertly-curated musical gatherings in the country, hosting everyone from Brian Wilson to the Jesus and Mary Chain since launching in 2008.
"The festival and the people it attracts go way beyond psychedelic music," explains Maas, "and I think this record does, too. It's definitely got its moments, but I don't consider this a psychedelic record. It's rock and roll."
Album opener "Currency" sets the stage in an explosive way, with ground-shaking low end and searing guitar riffs. "Print and print the money that you spend / Spend and spend the money that you print," Maas sings in a hypnotic near-chant. Taken literally, it's a reference to the Fed and the smoke and mirrors that prop up our monetary system, but the magic of the Black Angels lies in their ability to layer meaning upon meaning. Step back and it's a song about our consumer culture. Step back further and it's a song about temptation and the desires that draw us to the brink of ruin.
As the album unfolds, subsequent tracks reveal similar self-perpetuating cycles. Romance, violence, religion, health; for The Black Angels, everything is connected. "What potion are you after / First love then the disaster," Maas sings on "Medicine," a track inspired by our reliance on prescription pills to solve all of our woes (including the woes created by our reliance on prescription pills). On "I'd Kill For Her,' Maas steps inside of the mind of a man driven by the twisted belief that there's beauty in brutality, while "Half Believing" tackles modern apathy and commitment, and "Grab As Much As You Can" is a musing on the nature of greed.
"We're all fiends for something," Maas reflects, "whether it's Cheetos or heroin or money or love. Whatever it is that people are hooked on, they'll do terrible things, they'll do whatever it takes to get it and to keep it."
If there's a way out of the mess in which we find ourselves, though, 'Death Song' suggests that it's not through consumption, but rather through creation. The surreal, Krautrock-influenced "I Dreamt" envisions a reality in which our true inner selves can be shared through artistic expression, and in that sharing, a new, more harmonious way forward is revealed. "I dreamt that you dreamt that I dreamt with you," Maas sings, mixing reality and fantasy and the internal and the external so thoroughly as to render the distinctions between them meaningless.
"You can use art to show people how you think the world should be," Maas explains. "You can encourage them to dream what you dream and feel what you feel. If people act on those dreams and give them meaning, artists have the power to change the way the world thinks."
A lofty aspiration, to be sure, but that's precisely the kind of artistic ambition these extraordinary times call for. After all, if you're going to sing something, it might as well be something important.
The story of the Black Lips began in Dunwoody, Georgia, a quiet, conservative suburb of Atlanta, in the year 1999. Born of a mutual love of Link Wray, The Stooges, and The Ramones, and sealed through a shared dedication to defiance, the band formed after childhood friends Jared Swilley and Cole Alexander were kicked out of Dunwoody High for separate, yet equally bad, behavior. The former classmates took their love of music and restless energy and channeled it into their newly found free time, and joined by friends Ben Eberbaugh and Joe Bradley, the Black Lips started playing shows around Atlanta, at house parties and bars. They spent this time honing their sound – garage rock infused with blues, psychedelia, and punk, plus a healthy dose of reckless abandon – and released their first 7-inch, “Ain’t Coming Back,” in 2002 on Die Slaughterhouse records (named in homage to the flophouse den they called home). Shortly before the band was set to head out on their first ever national tour, Eberbaugh was tragically killed by a drunk driver. Devastated but determined to carry on in Eberbaugh’s honor, the Black Lips hit the road as a trio just a few days later.
It’s been 15 years, but that passionate dedication to touring has never left the band. The Black Lips have released eight full-length albums since that first tour, and have traveled the country and the world extensively, making a name for themselves as an electrifying, must-see live act. It helps that the same mischievous spirit that helped speed up their exit from the educational system is still very much alive, thriving in its new environment on stage, resplendent with punk rock theatrics and miscellaneous bodily fluids, amongst other things. The band’s energy and unique “flower punk” sound helped them build a rabid fan base, and after releasing their first two albums through Bomp!, they put out the critically celebrated Let It Bloom on In The Red records. This record garnered the Black Lips features in Spin and Rolling Stone, and they were soon signed to Vice Records, subsequently releasing Los Valientos Del Mundo Nuevo, an ambitious album recorded live at a bar in Tijuana, Mexico, in February of 2007.
In their decade-long tenure with Vice, the Black Lips have evolved from wildly crooning over fuzzy, raucous music at house shows full of kids to wildly crooning over fuzzy, raucous music at international festivals in front of thousands of fans. They have toured consistently, with their zeal for travel taking them all over the world, and not without some international adventure: In 2009 the Black Lips went on their first (and last) tour of India, playing shows in Bangalore and Mumbai before chaos struck in Chennai after the band ditched their toned-down presence in favor of classic Black Lips capers, including some not so well received Lips-locking. After the same sex smooching and also Alexander baring his butt to the rowdy crowd, the tour’s sponsors pulled out and the band was nearly jailed, their passports confiscated by the disgruntled promoters. According to Swilley: “The first few shows, we were being really reserved because we didn’t want to offend anyone, but they kept telling us to do what we wanted…I guess “do whatever you want” didn’t include kissing each other, and I think Cole mooned the crowd, which is a huge no-no. We had to physically wrestle our passports back from the promoters. It was the scariest 15 hours of my life, but we got out of there.” The band ended up taking a 200 mile cab ride to the next province and hopped a flight to Berlin, narrowly escaping Indian prison.
Undeterred, the band jumped at the chance to become the first Western punk band to tour another notoriously conservative continent, the Middle East, just a few years later. Why? “It was important for a number of reasons,” Swilley says of the tour. “We’ve always wanted to push boundaries of where we go. Plus, a lot of people told us we couldn’t do it, and anytime someone tells us we can’t do something, then we kind of have to. We have O.D.D, oppositional defiance disorder.” This time, their shows went off without a hitch, and Black Lips played shows for crowds in Jordan, Cyprus, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraqi Kurdistan, and the United Arab Emirates in 2011 in support of that year’s release of their record Arabia Mountain, produced by Mark Ronson. The title was actually a reference to a mountain in Georgia, but that didn’t stop the Lips from playing the record all over the Middle East, to enthused fans and without causing any further international incidents. “Everyone was really nervous about us going there, but it really went off without a hitch,” adds Swilley. The band also hasn’t abandoned plans to become the first rock band to play on all seven continents, hoping to hit their last remaining one, Antarctica in the near future, and disregarding Metallica’s claim of this achievement: “Just when we were securing the funding, Metallica sniped us. They took a boat, probably a gold plated Versace boat, down there. But they actually didn’t play on land, and they didn’t play with amps, so technically they haven’t played Antarctica. Metallica hasn’t beat us yet.”
For their ninth studio album, the Black Lips have teamed up with Sean Lennon, who got on board to produce Satan’s graffiti or god’s art? in 2016. The Black Lips had formerly worked with Lennon on Arabia Mountain, where Lennon played theramin on several tracks. The band moved up to Lennon’s studio compound on a remote farm in upstate New York, and spent several months living and breathing the new record. This removal from the outside world, plus the return of beloved early guitarist Jack Hines and the exciting addition of new members Oakley Munson on drums and Zumi Rosow (the first female Black Lip) on saxophone, infused the project with a focused, intoxicating liveliness, similar to the spirit that had brought the Black Lips to life in the first place, way back in 1999. Only this time, the band is drawing from nearly two decades of experience and musicianship, and the newness is tethered by familiarity: Munson is a longtime friend of the band, and Rosow has been playing live with the Black Lips for several years now. There’s even a dash of kismet: unbeknownst to the band, after being off the grid for some time, Munson had just recently moved to a cabin a short distance away from Lennon’s compound, and the first time his phone ever rang after he plugged into the wall, Alexander was on the other end, asking him to play.
All of this excitement and immersion created the perfect storm for the Black Lips’ most musically evolved album to date. “It was a really beautiful experience. We were very far from civilization, and we were all living at the studio. We weren’t going home to our own beds every night; that was our whole world, 100% of the time,” says Swilley of the experience. “Making this record was the most wonderful few months of my life. It was by far my favorite time recording an album so far…It was just magic.” The Black Lips were joined by Saul Adamczewski of Fat White Family, who helped co-produce the record with Lennon, plus another rather magical guest: Yoko Ono. “She’s very cosmic,” Swilley says of the celebrated artist and musician, who makes an appearance on a few of the tracks. The final product is urgent and thoughtful, reflecting the growth the Black Lips have experienced since bursting onto the scene (once or twice quite literally on fire),
but it’s also true to their original blistering, careening take on rock n’ roll: fuzzy, dirty, and rife with three and four part harmonies. Satan’s graffiti or god’s art? proves that while they may have grown up a bit and changed a few things around, the Black Lips are still as creatively unhinged and exhilarating as ever. Satan’s graffiti or god’s art? is out May 5th on Vice Records.