By Kyle Pineda
Last Tuesday, the Black Angels brought their brand of haunting Texan psychedelia to South Florida, playing in front of a full Grand Central crowd. While it seems as if psychedelic music has been part of a never ending cycle of revival and reinvention, the Black Angels, accompanied with fellow Austin psych-o-naut pioneer Roky Erickson, have been touring across the country unleashing two distinct generations of Austonian psych. The Black Angels are touring behind their 2013 album Indigo Meadow while Roky Erickson has mostly covered songs from his 1960’s act, the 13th Floor Elevators.
At this stage of the review, it’s important to preface Roky Erickson and his influence over psychedelic rock as a whole, as The Black Angels themselves look up to Roky Erickson as a massive influence. While San Francisco and London are frequently pinpointed as the epicenters of 1960’s psychedelia, the state of Texas offered their own take on psych-rock, featuring bands such as Bubble Puppy, and Shiva’s Headband.
However, no band is perhaps as frequently cited or as influential as the Roky Erickson-fronted 13th Floor Elevators, whose music combined the grime aesthetics of late-60’s garage rock with lyrical mysticism about the “All Seeing Eye”. Erickson himself has stated in the past that the band’s name is a nod to the thirteenth and final floor of the pyramid of enlightenment. Even with a clean cut appearance, the ‘Elevators were often a target of police investigation due to their openness about drug use, and by 1969 had broken up. Erickson was committed in a mental hospital for schizophrenia the following year. The 13th Floor Elevators could have gone down as a footnote in proto-grarage history, whose big hit “You’re Gonna Miss Me” would’ve ended up confined to the jukeboxes of taverns throughout the Midwest. Despite Roky Erickson’s slow descent into madness and personal obscurity, something curious happened as bands as far away as the United Kingdom picked up on this Texan quartet with an electric jug. Generations of music fans were exposed to the 13th Floor Elevators, not through the band directly, but through covers. Multiple bands released covers, ranging from the Spacemen 3’s ominously searing seventeen minute rendition of “Rollercoaster” to acid house covers of “Slip Inside This House” by both The Shamen and Primal Scream. Proto-punks Iggy Pop and Television claimed the 13th Floor Elevators as an influence, as did fellow Austonian contemporary neo-psych partners The Black Angels, which made this pairing for a tour feel very appropriate.
Shortly after opening act Golden Animals entertained the sparse but growing Grand Central crowd, Roky Erickson simply walked onto the stage, and picked up his blue Gibson Les Paul. Without saying a word to the audience, his backing band, the Hounds of Baskerville roared into the opener, “Cold Night For Alligators”, a solo song originally released in 1981. No flashy introduction necessary. Tonight, Roky Erickson was to command the attention of the entire venue, and it was clear who was in charge on the stage. As a song would come to its conclusion, Roky would often look at guitarist Eli Southard, and then nod in approval as the final note rung out from the guitarist’s red Telecaster. It was a curious gesture, the look of satisfaction as he’d give a slight grin, signaling that the song had reached its full intended conclusion, and that it was to his liking. Roky Erickson, once a mythical figure, had arrived in full reality. It was surreal to hear him play material that we were long exposed to through covers, which shook us back down to earth; the realization that he was there from the beginning, that they were always his songs. After fifty minutes of chugging through his catalogue, Roky Erickson closed with a final ‘Elevators tune, “You’re Gonna Miss Me”, to which the crowd happily sung along. If the night had ended with just Roky Erickson, it would have been a great show.
Of course, things were only getting started. The crowd got larger, as the roadies set up the Black Angels’ gear rather quickly. One could describe the crowd as growing restless, with an intense fan grabbing my shoulder and shouting “DUDE, THE FUCKIN’ ANGELS!” Talk about excited. The Fuckin’ Angels made their way onto the stage and within seconds, we were treated to a video projection, seeped in changing pixilated patterns and bursting colors; full frontal visual psychedelia. This was the accompanying visual entertainment, set up by the band itself, named the Mustachio Light Show. Throughout the night, this visual projection served as a backdrop, a separate show in parallel as the Black Angels assaulted the concert goers with walls of fuzz and reverb.
The fans were a dedicated bunch, who sung along with fervor all night, and the band gave it their all. The ‘Angels weren’t hesitant to jump around their entire catalogue, featuring songs from their debut Passover, to “Snake in the Grass” off Directions to See a Ghost and closing with “Bad Vibrations” off Phosphene Dream. The latter turned into a complete ambient psych freak out, with droning guitars, high piercing shrieks from Maas, and guitar effects that mirrored Pink Floyd’s “whale calls” of their track “Echoes”.
Whereas the conventional concert wisdom is for a show to end on a high up-tempo note, the Black Angels gave conventional wisdom the finger and turned it upside down. A friend of mine turned to me during all this and uttered “This is spooky music”. And he was right. It was incredibly eerie, psychedelic music at its most intense, and wholly unpredictable. No one in the audience knew what to expect, and one by one, band members slowly walked off the stage, with Alex Maas being the final Black Angel to exit stage right.
- To the guy with the cap who kept trying to force a mosh pit throughout the show: seriously? It’s not Lollapalooza 1992, chill out.
- “Don’t Play With Guns” is easily the most infectious and catchy song in the Black Angels catalogue.
- I had some reservations about going to Austin Psych Fest, but after this show, I’m close to booking my flight to Austin.
- An early contender for show of the year? I’d say so.