Black Mountain Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto, ON July 23

Black Mountain Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto, ON July 23
From their very first album, Stephen McBean's Black Mountain seemed to have painted themselves into a corner; sure, their retro boogie rock was great, but where did they go from there? Sophomore effort In the Future proved that the quintet of Vancouverites had far greater ambitions than simply rehashing the past. And as their set at Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern proved, McBean and co aren't resting on their laurels.

The group hit the cramped Horseshoe stage with vocalist Amber Webber standing front and centre, flanked by McBean and keyboardist Jeremy Schmidt. They started with a slow-building new cut from their upcoming Wilderness Heart, then launched into the album's title track, showcasing a newfound emphasis on Webber's vocals and Schmidt's increasingly John Carpenter-esque synth lines. The crowd, which skewed towards rowdy dudes in backwards baseball caps, was surprisingly receptive to the unfamiliar opening. Their patience was quickly rewarded with a string of tracks from the far more familiar In the Future, including "Angels," "Stormy High" and the epic "Tyrants."

The set had the feel of a warm-up gig in the sense that the band came off a little rusty in their transitions between each song, perhaps the result of the five members spending too much time off the road. The performances themselves, however, were fierce and inspired, especially those of Webber, who let her amazing voice take over each song. Some of the newer tunes had the jangly feel of McBean's Pink Mountaintops project, while the album's first single "Old Fangs," with its chugging guitar riff and piano, fit in nicely with older tracks.

The show ended with an encore that included a thundering version of "Don't Run Our Hearts Around," from Black Mountain's debut, but it was the new tunes that had everyone talking. Rarely can a band lean on new, unheard material live and get away with it. But that's exactly what Black Mountain were able to pull off, whetting appetites for an album that can only be amazing.