Vancouver was last treated to a show by neo-psychedelic group The Black Angels back in November of 2010 during the final performance of their “Dropout Boogie” co-headlining tour with local retro-rockers Black Mountain. Many at that show, including this author, were blown away by the performances of both bands and ultimately it proved to be one of the best shows in the city last year. Given the consistently awesome performances of their tour-mates this Austin, Texas quintet managed to exceed expectations and stand-out with a powerful set at The Commodore that showcased the experience and mettle gained through their relentless touring and jamming since their formation over 7 years ago.
Starting off the evening, San Francisco’s very own Sleepy Sun took to the stage among the shadows cast from a lone lantern at centre stage and, after making reference to the Canucks series win of only an hour before, started into the 10 minute epic White Dove from their 2009 debut LP Embrace. For those in the audience that weren’t familiar with this opening act this track proves to be a good show starter that ultimately culminates in layers of riffage and a long jammed out guitar solo finale. I was pleasantly surprised to see them continue through their set sticking to a far more upbeat rock tone than a lot of their folksier flavoured tracks I’d heard on their albums. Front-man Bret Constantino jumped between vocal duties, organs and various percussion instruments throughout the set and I was particularly impressed throughout their performance by the bombast with which Brian Tice pounded through the beats. There was no shortage of energy at any moment as guitarists Evan Reiss and Matt Holiman grooved and boogied through each song while curiously bassist Jack Allen remained still by comparison. Songs were chosen from both LP’s and there appeared to be a smattering of either new tracks or b-sides within the eight tracks that finished with the Embrace album’s opener New Age. The band graciously thanked the enthusiastic and eclectic Vancouver audience and their tour-mates as well before exiting behind a rack of nearly a dozen guitars waiting for the evening’s headliners.
Main vocalist Alex Maas, wearing his trademark hat, was the last to take the stage alongside one of Austin’s finest bands as they started their set with The Sniper at the Gates of Heaven and leading shortly into the similarly titled The Sniper. The eclectic crowd slowly worked into a pulsing frenzy in sync with Stephanie Bailey’s driving drums of the former track before rocking out to the slide guitar laden latter song. The b-side Surf City was followed by material that seemed to jump back and forth from their current 2010 LP Phosphene Dream and their 2006 debut LP Passover, included were the new choice cuts of Haunting At 1300 McKinley and Yellow Elevator. Throughout the evening bass guitar duties were traded off along with percussion between Maas, Christian Bland, Kyle Hunt and Nate Ryan as on Science Killer – the first track from 2008’s Directions To See A Ghost of the the evening. Percussion too, vocal duties, keyboards and organs as well as an array of close to a dozen guitars seemed to change hands among band members throughout their loose and groovy performance. The short, poppy and Beatlesesque Telephone single then followed before another Ghost cut and the 2010 b-side Ronettes made it a bakers dozen as they finished out their set for the thoroughly impressed audience dancing piled around the stage and right up along the stairs to Venue’s second floor.
After the band left the stage the Vancouver crowd cheered endlessly and clapped in unison before the quintet returned to the stage for a three song encore that included the paranoid and bouncing Bloodhounds On My Trail but very sadly, for this author, did not include First Vietnamese War. Retro-rock, neo-psych, alterna-folk (and whatever other genre amalgams one might think of) keep on producing fantastic bands from locales between here in Vancouver, San Francisco and Austin that as of late have proven to be some of the best shows in town.
Set-list Recap: The Sniper At The Gates Of Heaven, The Sniper, Surf City, Haunting At 1300 McKinley, Bad Vibrations, Prodigal Son, Entrance Song, Yellow Elevator, Black Grease, Science Killer, Telephone, You On The Run, Ronettes. Encore: Phosphene Dream, Bloodhounds On My Trail, Better Off Alone