For some shows, the vibe is everything -- a mix of the crowd's attention (or a lack there of) the lighting and other air-changing provisions, the quality of the sound and a band's presence, all factor into the success or total failure of a good evening. The Black Angels not only created the most attractive and deviant vibe appropriate for its set, but the band effectively transformed the Bluebird into another world -- a place that felt like the scary but sexy cavernous underbelly of the earth, not too far from the gates of Hell. A good Hell, and true feat for a Tuesday night.
The sold out show started right around 8 p.m., and local openers Overcasters were a perfect fit -- dark, desolate and certainly heavy, the quartet swayed from behind a film of projected patterns and bubbling light. Barreling through songs like "Way of the World" and "Kiss of Sister Ray," bassist Samantha Doom rocked back and forth in a perceived catatonic state, smiling into the blinding lights as she carried the lighter end of the rhythm.
Drummer Erin Tidwell was equally, if not manically animated, shooting her left fist into the air with force before slamming it into her floor tom in perfect time. At points, guitarist and vocalist Kurt Ottaway's voice seemed lost in the mix, and it was hard to tell if this was intentional or a product of a sound system overload, but mostly to Overcasters' loss. But the band plowed through regardless, songs like "Vertigo" still coming through with calculated force and a stage presence that stapled the whole thing together. Ottaway chanted "Black Angels" a few times at the crowd before the band closed up a torrential opening set.
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Not long after, five ethereal figures appeared in the manmade dense fog, bandleader Alex Maas coming off the most visually elusive, hidden behind a cap, beard, bass, and Farfisa electric organ. Opening with "You On the Run" The Black Angels psychedelic intensity set in immediately, weed smoke and dim lighting only adding to the overall effect. Positioned in front of a banner-sized version of the Angels current Phosphene Dream album cover, drummer Stephanie Bailey was all but invisible, the distended red and blue vertical lines swallowing her up as she pushed through the haze with slow, echoed cracks to her kit.
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"The First Vietnamese War" rattled and shook through the quintet and out into the crowd, bassy layers seizing up and intertwining with the band's shared vocals. The employment of three vocalists of an equally brooding caliber is The Black Angels' secret weapon -- the mimicry in each other's shrieks and howls made it impossible at points to tell where the sound was coming from. Heady shakes of maracas and tambourines burst out above the low-lying pedal effects, as gorgeous Rickenbackers and Fender Jazzmasters moved fluidly between members, each song allowing the multi-instrumentalists to take a different piece of gear to task.
The Black Angels dove deep into its pseudo-psychotropic catalog with songs like "Sniper at the Gates of Heaven," "Science Killer" and "Better Off Alone," Maas leading the band with hand raises and exposed elbows, poking out from the ripped-open sleeves of his chambray shirt. Closing with the Kinks-esque "Telephone," the quintet shook and screamed together before leaving the stage graciously, waves and smiles peering through the sonic blackness that had just transpired.
The theatre stayed dim for a while, before purple beams faintly flashing in some sort of secret message pattern signaled The Black Angels' return. The band was happy to dish out plenty more, playing tracks like "True Believers" and "Manipulation," bringing crowd and band to the pinnacle of headiness, before easing everything to slow-burning close. Shutting the immaculately executed show down for good with "Black Grease," The Black Angels once again said thank you and goodbye, leaving the crowd to flourish in the bleak and sinister evening.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I used to be in a band with Overcasters' Erin Tidwell -- although I hadn't seen her (or her current band) in years. Random Detail: This was the last stop for the Black Angels current tour, and they seemed genuinely stoked to be playing it in Denver. By The Way: I was caught off guard by a couple at the foot of the stage slowly grinding on each other during The Black Angels set -- not exactly that kind of sex music, but what do I know.