words & photos by Benjamin Lozovsky
On their upcoming album Wilderness Heart, the Black Mountain chose to soften up their previously diamond-tough chemical composition with bittersweet acoustic touches and largely uncluttered vocal and melodic elements.
Live though, its all-continental upheaval, all the time. With few exceptions, like opening its set at the Knitting Factory Monday (8/30) with "Radiant Hearts," an especially atmospheric Wilderness track full of woozy Melotron, Black Mountain focused on expanding the already waist-busting girth (bore) of their heavy, 70's obsessed riff rock.
Even as their more varied approach on Wilderness does a lot to widen their musical identity, guitarist Stephen McBean and his Vancouver bandmates are still immeasurably spurred forth musically by their idols. The Hammond organs blaring over a sludgy yet punctuated drum beat during "Old Fangs" felt like an ode to Steppenwolf. "The Hair Song," with an unusual (for the band) country-road warmth and spirit of optimism, could easily be a skillful reworking of Zeppelin's "Traveling Riverside Blues."
But pinpointing each individual reference throughout Black Mountain's music is counterintuitive. To experience the group is more of a wholly sensory indulgence than a challenging intellectual pursuit. Monday night, it was better to let the brooding yet ethereal howl of McBean and vocalist Amber Weber confuse your spirits, or to follow the minute subtleties of McBean's hefty but economical guitar, or listen for unpredictable synth lines by Jeremy Schmidt rising from sonic muck, or just let the unflappable rhythm section of bassist Matt Camirand and drummer Josh Wells leave your head freely swiveling in a drugged-out haze.
Opener The War On Drugs make referential drugged-out haze as well, but choose reverb heavy California sounds, distantly approachable Americana, and the Velvet Underground circa Loaded as their template instead. Most of the band's songs progressed slowly throughout their set, each rising with intensity around mostly static drum patterns and droney, arpeggiated chords played by leader and guitarist Adam Granduciel. It was far from the direct and plaintive meets noisy approach on their recorded work, and the group spent most of its set winning over the audience. After most fully capturing the crowd's attention with the foot-stomping Kraut meets Springsteen number "A Needle in Your Eye," the group then inexplicably finished with an unnecessarily prolonged, 10 plus minute drone and noise exploration that instead of bringing their mind altering aspirations to a head, actually sobered most listeners up. The War on Drugs rages on.
Black Mountain hit the road with The Black Angels at the end of October. The War on Drugs played a 2nd NYC show last night at The Rock Shop (how was that?).
Pictures from War on Drug's Knitting Factory set are HERE with pictures from the rest of the show, with Black Mountain's setlist, below...