The Black Angels Malkin Bowl, Vancouver BC, June 7

The Black Angels Malkin Bowl, Vancouver BC, June 7
Photo: Amy Ray
Austin's Black Angels are a tough act to review live. On record, their driving psych-rock sound is near perfection, even grander than worthy contemporaries like Clinic, the Raveonettes, and the Warlocks, while drawing on inspiration from the likes of the Velvet Underground, the 13th Floor Elevators, and the Doors, and their set at Levitation was every bit as professional as their performance at the Commodore in 2013. The indecipherable reverberant twang of Alex Mass's vocals, the punchy drums of Stephanie Bailey, and their deep grooves, fuzz bomb riffs and tastefully employed organ all added up to what should have been a mind-blowing experience. They seemed to have it all, but I felt like there was still a little something holding this quintet back in the live setting.
They brought such a range of style and clarity of vision on their 2014 mini-album Clear Lake Forest, one of their best works yet, but regardless of their origin, their songs mostly washed together live. They tended to all hit the same level, the same energy, which makes it harder for individual moments to shine. Each of the players, except for Bailey, switched around instruments between almost every song, and even Bailey applied a crazy echo to a snare for one of their tracks, so they do a lot of differentiate their songs. There's no doubting their effort. They clearly rehearse, and have talent out the wazoo.
Perhaps it's a presence thing. Ten minutes into their set, a big screen revealed behind them to trip viewers with their evolving projections of lysergic zooms and shapes, but the band themselves remained fairly introverted. Guitarist Christian Bland soloed with his back to the crowd half the time, while most of the band shoegazed or stared off into space, none of them moving around very much. You can't knock their polish, but they could probably go a little farther out there into the unknown live, and the crowd would follow. As is, they still managed to work a section of the crowd into a mosh pit, a testament to their obvious power and skill.
The Black Angels, Vancouver BC, 2015 06 07