Black Mountain + Blood Meridian + Ladyhawk
September 27, 2005
The people in Black Mountain are fuckups. They wander around drunk between songs and yell at individual people in the crowd and have big beards and announced from the stage that they’d missed the Hold Steady record release party that they were booked to play a couple of months ago because, um, they forgot. Their instruments had been stolen the night before, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if someone had just left the van unlocked. They also kept inviting all the jokers from the opening bands and the sizable contingent of drunk Canadian people in the crowd onstage to play tambourines and stuff. Near the end of the set, some guy standing near me announced that he was leaving “on principle” if they grabbed anyone else and told them to play maracas. Mere minutes later, they grabbed someone else and told them to play maracas. The guy, true to his word, stormed out.
The guy who left was a chump because Black Mountain is awesome. Their self-titled album is a precariously towering pile of sexy-blooz-vamp cliches hammered over each other and stretched out like taffy until the whole thing becomes a dense, druggy fog of sex-moans and gospel howls and choogle riffs and ghostly organs and ominous gutpunch basslines and spaghetti-western flourishes and (especially) big, big riffs. It’s like someone took all the nice things everyone said about Comets on Fire and Dungen last year and suddenly made them actually come true: a band that turns tired classic-rock source material into a monumental haze of droned-out bliss.
Black Mountain is a fucking beast of an album, but it wasn’t at all certain that they’d be able to pull it off live. That’s partly because the album is a total studio work, all its armies of guitars layered gorgeously, heavily dependent on dudes like the squawky saxophone player who wasn’t on tour with them. It’s also partly because the drunken-Canadian contingent, which I swear to God was like half the crowd, would’ve been happy with whatever. They made a lot of noise for openers Ladyhawk, even though that band plays goofy, sloppy, ambling riff-rock that sounds like Jets to Brazil if you close your eyes, and even though the bass player looks like Weird Al Yankovic with a big beard, which is not a good look.
They also made a lot of noise for Blood Meridian, a band that shares a couple of members with Black Mountain (I understand that Canadian bands like to do that) and plays pretty good surgey crashey road-trip emo-folk-AOR, somewhere between let’s say Bright Eyes and Social Distortion. They unsurprisingly lost it a bit when they veered into country territory, but they stayed good when they stuck to lightly psychedelic throb and occasionally toyed around with rockabilly. Frontman Matt Camirand, who also churns out heavily fuzzed-up basslines in Black Mountain, perfectly inhabits every scuzzy backwoods rawk troubadour stereotype right down to the gutterpunk tattoos on his hands, and it was fun to see them invite all the Vancouver heads onstage to sing along on the last song, but they didn’t explode my world or anything.
But the Vancouver contingent was into those bands and thoroughly amped to see Black Mountain (I’m pretty sure they started moshing a couple of times), so the band probably didn’t need to work all that hard. And they didn’t seem to be working hard; they staggered around all drunk between songs, and frontman Stephen McBean kept wandering to the back of the stage every time he played a solo. But holy shit, they sounded incredible, vamps building into roars, evil synths blaring out over everything, monstrous metal riffs occasionally ripping through the fog. “Don’t Run Our Hearts Around” and “Druganaut” had a steamrolling headbanger stomp that kept up even through the spaced-out quiet parts, and “No Hits” built from forebodingly perfect horror-movie atmospherics into a damaged roar over what felt like hours (in the good way). The closing “No Satisfaction” turned into an ecstatic gang-shout singalong and sent everyone out reeling. This was laser-eyed behemoth shit, and if they wanted to tell people to play maracas, that was OK with me.