Black Mountain, The War on Drugs

Black Mountain and The War on Drugs at Knitting Factory Brooklyn, August 31st, 2010

Sep 03, 2010 Photography by Robert Kidd Web Exclusive
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A sold-out audience packed the floor of Brooklyn’s Knitting Factory on Monday night to catch Black Mountain in support of their new album, Wilderness Heart, out September 14th. Almost two years have passed since the Vancouver band played New York—a long time for a group that was hitting the city three times a year before that. The venue provided a more intimate setting for the show with its 300-odd body capacity, which is roughly half the size of the venues the band has filled in its last few New York visits. 

Opening act The War on Drugs made for a solid stoner rock palate whetter, layering hazy psychedelia under overtly Dylan-esque vocals. But as songs repeatedly broke down into laid-back guitar noodlings that each lasted eight minutes too long, the announcement of “we’ve got three more to go!” was answered by more than one catcall from the impatient audience. While not necessarily a critique of the band’s music or performance, this was a case where less would have equaled much more.

Black Mountain took the stage a few minutes after the show’s projected end time and quickly kicked off their set with two new tracks from their upcoming album Wilderness Heart. While the new songs don’t as closely embrace the ’70s hard rock riffs ‘n’ synths that practically defined In the Future, there’s no shortage of retro-rock influence here. “Old Fangs” boasts a level of organ bombast that would have made Iron Butterfly look twice, and “The Hair Song” has more in common with the laid-back attack of Houses of the Holy than any of Led Zeppelin’s numbered albums.

Black Mountain has a strangely muted stage presence for a band so identified by a hard rock sound. Frontman Stephen McBean played primarily from the back of the stage, approaching the microphone only while singing or switching stompboxes, and quickly retreating to a personal rock ‘n’ roll bubble by the amplifiers during any and all instrumental passages.

Vocalist Amber Webber positions herself front and center. Her voice has a lingering quiver in it regardless of pitch or volume, giving her vocals an ethereal quality that plays well with McBean’s. That quality extends beyond her sound and envelops her persona. Despite her prominent placement on the stage and the fair number of songs that require her wailing to overpower the guitars’, she never lets her presence get in front of the sound; instead, letting herself become a pretty instrument within the larger Black Mountain machine. Neither singer spoke a word between songs.

Between the thundering guitars of “Tyrants,” the dirty boogie synths and blues riffing on “Evil Ways” and the straight up space rock of “Wucan,” Black Mountain are masters at guiding their audience on an aural journey, dropping listeners into an introspective, head-bobbing trance just long enough to get lost in the casual beat of the toms only to abruptly yank them up into frenzied heights with a well-timed howl from Webber. The arrangement of the songs is carefully thought out, the setlists varying little from city to city. By no means out of laziness—it’s a sign the band has a gameplan, and, oh, can they execute it.

They finished their regular set with the last album’s opening track (and single) “Stormy High”— ever-louder, ever-building, leaving the audience’s energy level high enough for the band to take a much-needed five-minute breather.

Black Mountain returned to the stage for a robust encore set which included a heavy, drawn-out jam on “Druganaut” and closed with an energetic blast through their setlist staple, “No Satisfaction”—a song that all but drops the stoner rock sounds for a noisy number that could almost be a piece cut from White Light/White Heat. For a band who wears the influences of an entire classic rock record collection on their sleeve, it’s hard to imagine they could sound much more modern.

Black Mountain will tour Europe for the month of September before giving the U.S. another go-around on a co-headlining tour with The Black Angels beginning in October. (www.myspace.com/blackmountain

 




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Kyle Lemmon
September 6th 2010
6:36am

Nice review, Austin!!