A pre-Christmas gig attended by lots of friends and familar faces and a bar that wasn't so busy you could get a drink whenever you wanted is never going to produce the most coherent review. However, I care very deeply about the music of the Angels and was determined to pull my thoughts together, however fuzzy they may be.
You naturally anticipate that going to see a band called The Black Angels, with their reputation for bludgeoning sound and light onslaughts, in the run up to the holiest period in the Christian calendar isn't going to give you an evening of festive joy. What we did get tonight, however, was a sign that the band have started to move away from trying to pummell their audience into submission, and are moving towards a more soulful, mature sound. Maybe not quite Christmas carols, but at least a movement towards a slightly more uplifting and, well, less black, sound.
Having played a couple of stunning gigs in the capital over the last two years on the back of their Passover and follow-up Directions to See a Ghost albums, The Black Angels were greeted to the stage like long-lost friends and it was more familiar tracks from the bands debut such as Better Off Alone, Manipulation and Black Grease that got the warmest receptions.
Maybe its a result of the band's recent gigs with Roky Erickson, or maybe its a conscious decision to introduce a more varied mix of musical textures to their live show, but this increased soulfullness made the Angels seem somewhat tamer than they've done on their previous visits to London. Their shows at Sonic Cathedral and the ICA were particularly distinctive due to their bombast (like the Velvet Undergound jamming with The Doors), but its refreshing to see a band looking to evolve their sound. Tonight they were groovier than I've seen them previously, a richer, more considered, grown-up sound, but it seemed to be a trade off against the primal immediacy (dare I say excitement?) that made their previous shows so viscerally stunning.
Sometimes it works – the Nico-esque Vikings (at least I'm pretty sure that's what it was), was immense, but there's also a danger that the set becomes a little one-paced, a little plodding. You In Colour (they definitely played this) was a barnstorming set-closer, just before a curfew-nudging cover of the 13th Floor Elevators' Don't Fall Down.
It was a good gig, and The Black Angels are a great band. After hitting so many highs on their previous London shows, however, I left feeling just a little underwhelmed tonight (but that's probably down to what I was expecting from tonight, rather than any failure on the Black Angels' part). There were enough signs, however, that the bands' new, gentler, direction is something to get very excited about – less sonic carpet bombing, more beard stroking, perhaps. The prospect of some 2009 European shows with Roky Erickson have really got me salivating.
Support came from The Brothers Movement (formerly Mainline) who have been criminally under-rated. They've had some cracking support slots recently (including the likes of the Dandy Warhols and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club) and have some wonderful BRMC, Ride and even Embrace (their good, anthemic stuff)-esque pop songs. It's only a matter of time before they really start making some waves, here's to them having a cracking 2009.
Pic: Thanks to Underexposed