Black Angels with Hanni El-Khatib, Wall of Dead @ The Depot 05.11

Posted May 14, 2013 in

Kyle Hunt, Alex Maas, Stephanie Bailey and Christian Bland of the Black Angels impressed, playing songs off of their new album, Indigo Meadow. Photo: Courtney Chavanell

I'm going to come out here at the front and say that Saturday's show was amazing and you are less of a person for missing it. Sorry kids, but the Black Angels have yet to disappoint me, and you're letting yourself down by missing any opportunity to see them. Now, let’s go on to why this was such a good show, starting with beginning.

The first to walk on stage was the French neo-psychedelic band, Wall of Death. A three man troupe, Wall of Death have a fairly distinct sound: a mash-up of Silver Apples and Pink Floyd but with desolate (think Death Valley), outlaw country underpinnings still centered in blues. Slide guitar and steel guitar played a major role in their set, which always makes me thirsty for some reason. Acid-stained guitar chords were prevalent in the background when they weren’t in the forefront of the song. When it comes to the drums, I can't tell you what he was set up with, because he and his kit were shrouded in darkness, except for the occasional swipe of light from the stage lights. The drums were tom-heavy, dark, symphonic skin beating, but very subdued in comparison to keyboardist. Shrieking, intricate guitar-like solos, a quality in contemporary music that left popularity after Lynyrd Skynyrd's “Free Bird.” When he wasn't soloing, bringing transcendence to room, he was holding up the rest of the group with his groovy bass tones and organ chords. They played from their new album Main Obsession, which has doomy-Strawberry Alarm Clock feel to it. I suggest you buy this album, because it's pretty much the best thing to happen to me in the last two weeks. With any psychedelic show, you're to expect some sort of a light show. I'm not sure who decided on the stage lighting Saturday, but the candy-swirled blue lights revolved around the stage and into the audience, with green and red ambient lights behind the band was a good choice, it added to the experience without distracting me from the band.
My favorite tune to come out of this show was “Main Obsession,” which is, if I were their record label, the single out of their recent album. Palm muted acid guitar played over walking bass tones, it has a sort a The Doors feel at first and then the vocals come it and flip that notion to the side. The vocals in the band are straight out of a Peter Murphy experience or if Ian Curtis of Joy Division were resurrected from the dead and joined Wall of Dead. It's just plain beautiful. The song crescendos to a loud and overwhelming swirling mass of noise, keys and drums, just so fucking good.
Once Wall of Death left the stage, I went outside for some fresh air, and by the time I came back, Hanni El-Khatib was walking on stage. An “up-and-coming” act from LA, I've decided to break down their performance into two parts: the good and the bad. Lets start with what I really like about El-Khatib's music.
First of all, El-Khatib has great stage presence—he managed to win over the audience by the first half of the set. This is something that is hard to do, especially when you're the penultimate act. His hooks are catchy, with a Black Keys–meets–Buddy Holly sort of quality. The second half of his set was full of examples of songs you could twist to, all of which have a nice dirty crunch to them. There is no question that El-Khatib know his way around a guitar and his colleagues are equally talented. The songs are about building cars, destroying cars, robbing banks and loving ladies. What rockabilly wouldn't like this guy? The crowd was won over, and for good reason, so when I go onto the second half of this review, I'm pretty sure I'm in the minority when I say I'm not a fan of El-Khatib's work.
El-Khatib is as retro as your gold leggings. You like pinups? Winged cars and lucky strikes? Than marketing statistics show you're just going to love El-Khatib. From his slicked back hair to the garage rock distortion, El-Khatib is about selling an image and I, for one, don't buy it. His songs are slathered with staccato, Jackson-esque “whoa!”s and when I say Black Keys meets Buddy Holly, I really mean the Black Keys but with more members. This isn't surprising, as Dan Auerbach produced El-Khatib's album while in Nashville. There is nothing authentic to this music—it feels like simple throwbacks to a bygone era. If there was anything in this performance that didn't feel plastic, I would have enjoyed myself a little more, from the the left forearm extension every other verse, to the pushing your hair back when you grab the microphone, it all felt fake. I respect both Auerbach and El-Khatib as musicians, but El-Khatib's music felt and sounded more like a reproduction than a crafted album. And, to add on to it, El-Khatib seemed pretty ill fitting for the bill. There was nothing psychedelic or noisy about his set. I haven't seen such a mismatch since the Rolling Blackouts opened for Flogging Molly, which is a disservice to El-Khatib. I hope in a few years that El-Khatib loses the get-up and tells us how he really feels.
After El-Khatib's set was through, the Black Angels walked on stage went straight into the mess. The ambient light was green and each member had their instruments in hand and the place went batshit. The air smelt sweet of … oregano or was it something else? People were passing around bottles with eye droppers and I'm pretty sure there were couple people high on illicit substances somewhere in the middle of the crowd. I moved in closer to get a better perspective of their performance, humid perspiration fouled up the air around me. I got closer to the front of the stage and stumbled upon a mass of human body parts folding in on each other. There were twelve, maybe fourteen of them in this “love pit.” It looked like something out of a snake documentary, I wouldn't say people were actually having sex, but there were hands in private places and it got kind of uncomfortable to stand next to. I moved forward, but more importantly, away from the “love-in.”
The Black Angels busted into their new single, “Indigo Meadow” and the first thing that I noticed is that Alex Maas, the lead singer, has a Grace Slick quality to his vocals. The wobbly, deep phrasing used by Slick is probably where I hear it. This is never highlighted in their albums for some reason, but they should bring some attention to it. In the background a fluctuating sphere of colors vibrated with the music and distorted into shapes incomprehensible to my brain. The next song they played, “Don't Play With Guns,” my current favorite, is in the same fuzzy psychedelic vein they were making in 2005 (see the song “The First Vietnamese War”). Dissident vocals and layered keyboardist with crashing acid licks and crunchy bass peppering the song. They played quite a bit of their new album Indigo Meadow, a quality addition to their four other albums. The last half of their sets focused on Phosphene Dream and Directions to See a Ghost, including everyone's favorite, “Young Dead Men.” The only thing I was hoping for was a Jefferson Airplane cover, because, you never know. I think it'd be pretty cool. If you're reading this and aren't nodding your head in agreement with how amazing this show was, you missed out and shame on you.
Kyle Hunt, Alex Maas, Stephanie Bailey and Christian Bland of the Black Angels impressed, playing songs off of their new album, Indigo Meadow. Photo: Courtney Chavanell