The Black Angels, Roky Erickson, Golden Animals
Mercy Lounge, Nashville, TN
February 21, 2014
Review by Jack Smith
Photos by Jake Giles Netter
Just for a moment, we’d like you to consider some modern cultural history with us. Come on, it’ll be fun. All the cool kids are studying cultural anthropology nowadays. Anyways, back in the 60’s, there was a shift in the countercultural movements of the time. In seemingly just the blink of an eye, the countercultural scene (then composed primarily of hippies) took the nation by storm, and proved its artful, psychedelic self to be a very attractive option to thousands and thousands of young people. Think about it. All we have to do is say the 60’s, and we’re sure at least some images of hippies and the counterculture spring to mind. This unique phenomena is due to the efforts of a number of individuals; one such young individual was Roky Erickson, who together with his friends Tommy Hall and Stacy Sutherland put together a little band called 13th Floor Elevators. Today, this band is considered the first psychedelic act of all time.
Now, we know you’re not reading this review for a history lesson, but in a way you really have to understand how important Erickson was to this scene to understand why his recent show at the Mercy Lounge was as monumental as it was. Without his contributions, the musical grounds that spawned the likes of evening headliners The Black Angels and fellow opening act Golden Animals would have laid quite dormant. Thanks to Roky’s work, however, we were treated to a night in which three vastly different psychedelic artists came together for the noble purpose of creating some good tunes. We managed to catch all three of these stellar acts at their Mercy show last Friday (and we brought along photographer Jake Giles Netter to take some stunning photos), and if you stick with us through the break, we’d love to tell you all about it.
Oh good, you made it. We’ll begin just how the show did: with the awesome Brooklyn based trio Golden Animals. Remember how we told you this show represents all sides of the psychedelic scene? Well, Golden Animals is the young indie darlings of the scene. The group has been together playing since 2006 (with their most recent release coming to us last September), and are self-described as “desert-psych.” If there was ever a label we could agree with, it would be this one. At the microscopic level, Golden Animals’ sound flits through the air, meandering throughout the room with that traditional, non-hurried mentality integral to getting really hazy, intricate psychedelic tones. However, Golden Animals’ at the macroscopic level is a totally different story, for it is here that Golden Animals really shines. Each of the portions of their songs blends together quite well, and the minute changes they add in each section act as a nudge to get listener’s through the song. That’s a pretty difficult skill for a band to master, but Golden Animals proved themselves masters at this during their killer set.
Following Golden Animals was the legend himself, Roky Erickson. It’s been 50 years since Erickson first became active on the music scene, so we think it would be safe to say he fits the “elder statesman” role of our psychedelic paradigm. In the course of those fifty years, Erickson has put in a lot of time and effort learning to craft the perfect live show, and it really shows in his performance. He understands how small nuances can make or break a performance, and seems to have no trouble reigning these in to do his bidding. Of course, you wouldn’t know that from watching him on stage; he seems remarkably calm, zen, and in the zone while performing. Take a look at the expressions on Roky’s face in some of the photos below, and try to tell us he doesn’t seem to adopt a strange sense of peace while performing. He makes it look easy, which is truly the hallmark of a master. As he rocked audiences with his phased out guitar tones and powerful (and occasionally abrasive) voice, it became quite evident why the guy has stuck around for so long.
Finally, the headliner for the evening, The Black Angels, took the stage. We were very excited for this act, as we’ve been fans of this Austin based quintet since their 2008 album, Directions to See a Ghost, first dropped. If Golden Animals are the indie newcomers and Roky Erickson is the seasoned veteran in our example, the Black Angels are certainly your modern day masters. These guys play everywhere, and seem to have rocked every major festival over the course of their ten year career, but it’s easy to understand why the Black Angels are in such high demand. Their music is heavy and introspective, as good psychedelia should be, but at the same time there’s an undeniable groove and catchiness to it. This comparison may be a little out of line, but in many ways, the Black Angels have injected just a tinge of pop sensibility into their fuzzed out psychedelic rock in exactly the same way Nirvana infused that same sensibility into punk music. Rather than focusing on creating as trippy of an experience as possible or trying to out due everyone else on the scene, the Black Angels instead choose to write good, catchy songs that happen to fall into the sludgy psych rock genre. This is especially apparent when one compares their first two albums with their more recent efforts; over the years, the group has gotten far less droney, which only served to make their music all the more accessible to the general public. This strategy seems to have worked out nicely for them, and it definitely worked out spectacularly live. The Black Angels managed to pull off being loud, heavy, and groovy all at the same time, which is not an easy feat, we might add. However, the group made it look easy, and further cemented their position as the strongest band in the psychedelic circuit these days.