Written by George Comber
It could be said for the masses of dedicated Black Angels superfans, that when the flittering bulbs of New Century Hall patterned out, leaving the room and stage in blackness, the return of the Texan rock group has been a long time coming. The first thing heard by the desperate ears of the awaiting mob were the nostalgic strings of ‘Bittersweet Symphony’, evolved into an electric fusion of harmonious sounds, giving the audience a taste (all too familiar to some) of what everyone has come here for. I wasn’t the only one inspecting the array of instruments presented in a boasting pre-set of the Angels’ musical assortment. Two mellotrons either side of the stage were among 4 mic stands – giving a premonition to those new to the Angels as to the collective zeal the band have regarding the minute technical focus upon musical consonance and harmony.
Despite the five-year absence, the crowd were no stranger to the impending guitar riff, soaked in the Angel’s signature reverb, cementing their 2008 hit, ‘You on The Run’, as the perfect opener. In total awareness of their surroundings, guitarist, Christian Bland, strutted onto the stage sporting a blue Oasis t-shirt, a statement in reverence to the ‘rich musical history’ he, earlier that day, acclaimed on the band’s social media.
Relocating from their previous visit to Manchester at the O2 Ritz, the breadth of the floor in New Century was no impediment for the band’s well-established credence to their sonic-induced spin on psychedelia in rock, allowing the sound to permeate and overpower from the front right to the back. In a city whose sound waves remained untouched by the Angels’ 2022 release, Wilderness of Mirrors, the emergence of ‘El Jardin’ acted as a continuation of what the Angels fans can come to expect of the group. When the song concluded, the noise from the crowd was the only thing able to compete with the words of gratitude from lead singer Alex Maas, his ‘Thank you’ caked in the same penetrating reverb and delay which melts his voice into the same fever-dream-like state which the soundwaves compel you to experience.
Parading through a set which included the much-loved classics, ‘Black Grease’ and ‘Entrance Song’ in conjunction with the implementation of newer tracks, the band were on top musical form. The experimental opening track of their latest record ‘Without a Trace’, despite only being out for 5 months, had swarms of people – young and old, clad in a variety of colourful Angels merch – jumping and shouting the lyrics of the cathartic chorus – ‘We’re invincible, we’ll be alarming, we’ll be an army’. The state of the audience was a manifestation of the Angels’ lyrics; as I looked around, seeing the eyes of the audience transfixed upon Alex Maas, his beanie pulled down over his head and eyes like a mole, a rock n’ roll mole, the pure passion and providence provided by his booming voice was at once captivating, enthralling, and at the mercy of the adoring crowd.
As a cherry on a very large, very tasty cake, the backdrop of the Angels provided their typical submission to the psychedelic. Melting, shape-shifting colours and shapes occasionally taking the form of a flower or forest allowed the audience to gaze whimsically at the images, questioning whether any visual expression can ever truly define what bounced off those walls that night.
Leaving the stage after one hour and fifteen minutes, the stomps and claps of the audience eventually brought the band back on, promising “one more song”. Eight songs later, having produced what was equivalent to a second set, and satisfied the audiences constant, verbal lust for their defining song ‘Young Men Dead’, The Black Angels left the stage for the final time.
Leaving Manchester yet again to finish their UK leg of the tour in London, the Black Angels were a delight to witness. As the old saying goes, absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder, but let’s hope their absence doesn’t last as long this time…