There is no excuse for passing up on the opportunity to go out and experience a live gig by any artist that resides in the camp of Jagjaguwar records, primarily home to some of the freshest contemporaries in American and Canadian indie folk and rock music. So with no exception then, it was a real pleasure to hear that currently touring Canadian astral-rockers Black Mountain were stopping-by to play a small handful of UK venues including a warmly welcomed song-set at the Key Club – Leeds.
Already five albums to the good, Black Mountain’s presence here coincides with their recent work ‘Destroyer’ – offering up plentiful servings of their heady brew of guitar and straight-ahead driving percussive rock liquor, strained and infused from those precious and seemingly bottomless barrels of Californian psychedelia, English folk & progressive rock through to 80’s synths sounds that wouldn’t seem out of place in a Giallo thriller.
Along for another ride during their UK pit-stop are their tour kinsmen Mass Datura, the now 6-piece London progressive/future-rock flag-wavers – who have had previous touring engagements with Black Mountain and continue to uphold their trans-Atlantic relations via Canadian-born singer Thomas Rowe. Judging by the miles of trailing spaghetti-wiring, fully loaded pedal boards, numerous guitars and a high enough voltage output to reclassify The Key Club as a small sub-station, Mass Datura were evidently all-in as opposed to line-in, and ready to deliver a set of intent songs that would either compound or ridicule their reputation for “raw and unpredictability in their live performances”.
With roots and influences that have their feet firmly planted in both American and English traditionalisms, Mass Datura appeared on-stage draped in a cosmopolitan range of Anglo-American folk and country inspired finery, with juxtaposed instrument choices in the shape of Mellotrons & pedal steels through to violins & glitter finished glam-rock electric guitars. There was certainly enough visual candy for entertainment even if the music didn’t inspire – but quite the contrary. As evident (since the release of their premier outing in the shape of ‘Sentimental Meltdown’), Mass have travelled much further along, garnered more experience and honed their sound comprising an eclectic source of sounds, from fusion and dichordant fuzz-guitar to the dreamy cascading keyboard runs on songs such as ‘Temporary Halo’ and ‘Hanging from a Thousand Nails’. Mellotrons and fuzz-tones being so synonymous – its an easy-win to make the associations with psychedelia, but there were songs here that refer to the more intelligent psyche aspects rather than the throwaway bubblegum-pop. Rowe’s gritty and spasmodic vocal tones were tamed only by the soothing synths and pedal steel bindings that created deep flowing but definable nods to American Country – an undercurrent that maintained a flowing momentum held steady by the highly polished, almost jazz-like professionalism of the rhythm section.
The intermission soundscape sketched out by Michael McDonald, Mothers and Aphrodite’s Child served as a partial insight into the multifarious influences that may have affected Black Mountain’s sound over a decade-and-a-half since the release of their eponymous album and critically acclaimed full-length ‘In the Future’ up to the present and aformentioned release ‘Destroyer’. With deepening roots that have consumed heavily from the lakes and rivers of psychedelia, prog-rock and tradtional folk it is unsurprising then from such derivations that they should resolve to a singular sound, which is just as well within today’s progressive tendencies.
Hence to the gig, the songlist predictably drawn heavily from Destroyer, but opening proceedings with “Mothers of the Sun’ from ‘IV’ followed by ‘Future Shade’ – a beat-heavy head-nodder juxtaposed by a hard-rock heavy-gunner immediately drawing the attention of everyone in the Club to the centrepieces, being the weathered and whiskery guitar gunslinger Stephen McBean and the newly drafted keyboard and soundsmithery of Rachel Fannan, adding to and contributing vocals which broadened the sound sphere.
‘Wucan’ from ‘In the Future’ brought out the heaviest of fuzz overdriven riffs and the emergence of the first of the lengthier tracks of the set with vocal interspertions of “come together” echoing obvious comtemporaries such as The Beatles and more recently Spiritualized, segueing gently into ‘Rollercoaster’ – all of which gave band members time and space to add solo parts to the brooding balladry, richly stitched together with fusions of iconographic Moog sounds and the deep growls wrentched out of McBean’s butterscotch Gibson guitar, howling and humming with epic towering rock classicism.
The running order continued to criss-cross thereafter through where any sequence of Black Mountain’s song-wealth would have been appropriate to the moment, with perhaps the only missing elements being any of the acoustic treatment as evident on the ‘Wilderness Heart’ LP which would’ve been a welcomed respite and mood shift away from the colossal guitar riffs, however the pace subsided towards the finale with the elegantly gliding Floydian homage in the form of ‘Space to Bakersfield’ – with guitar mastery courtesy of McBean’s throttled Strat fretwork fluttering in-and-out-of-focus akin to Hazel’s ‘Maggot Brain’ workout, and some sublime vocal harmonies and occaisional percussive sound interspersions carefully selected from an array of shakers and bells laid out on Fannan’s compact music stand.
Beyond the heavy guitar driven progressiveness which bound together the majority of Black Mountain’s catalogue and the evenings song selection, there was a genuine affection heard in McBean’s voice which was surprisingly warming and tonaly gentle, lending itself to a cosy bluesy feel and finding a comfier place to reside in the balladry work, but not to say that it didn’t fit just as well within the darker corners. Together with Fannan’s vocal tenderness (although capable of delivering equal measures of raw vocal power!) the band had the width to venture out with exotic jams and workouts with the advantage of having the vocal capacity that lended themselves to evoke depths of aggression, with either/or melodic space in a slowly delivered bues context.
Given that the crowd were easily coerced to respond to any musical direction offered up by the band, they were at will to be as diverse as they needed to get the job done, adding weight to a back-catalogue that just works without the need to follow any concept-building. Just pull out a song and see if it sticks. All of the 14 songs played seemed to do just that, testament to the bands consistency and unsurprisingly comtemporary place amongst the current bands jockeying within a resurgence of progressive rock, punk and elongated beat-driven workouts, hesitant here to apply the moniker of ‘stoner-rock’ which doesn’t really have much relevance within a new generation audience who appreciate the musicianship without the association of that particular mind-state. Although it sometimes helps!
Thanks to Black Mountain management 7s MGMT
High praise to Futuresound Group Promotions