A Dark Night of Psychedelic Rock

April 9th, 2013

The Black Angels/Allah-Las/Elephant Stone – Webster Hall – April 8, 2013

The Black Angels

From the outside, it probably just looked like an ordinary Monday night at Webster Hall. But on the inside, it was a strap-on-your-headlamp spelunking expedition into the darker depths of psychedelic rock and roll. First up, Elephant Stone, from Montreal, played a solid set of their Beatles-y sound that ended with a strong coupling of “Setting Sun,” off their new self-titled release, followed by “Don’t You Know,” from The Seven Seas. The finale stretched out into a nice jam with frontman Rishi Dhir moving to sitar. Rappelling a little deeper into the cavern, next Allah-Las perfectly crystallized the psych-folk sound of the late ’60s. Their set was filled with deceptively simple songs like “I Had It All” and a mostly instrumental piece that could have been off a surf-shop soundtrack.

Strong openers aside, the explorers inside Webster Hall had filled the room for one reason: the Black Angels. With tall white panels spaced across the stage, the quintet launched into their dark, aggressive rock and roll. When you get this deep beneath the surface, you start running into strange creatures, and their first few songs fit the bill—some, like “Indigo Meadow,” spiky and scary, some shimmering with oozy bass playing, others wiggling their way through the air like “Entrance Song,” electric eels discharging sparks into the murky water. In the deep, there was little natural light, but the Angels brought their own, projections on the backdrop and the white screens ran Escher-esque geometries that matched the music to dizzying effect. Midway through, the show went into sensory overload, the music and visuals fusing into a single vertigo-inducing phenomenon.

As the Black Angels churned and frothed through “You’re Mine,” the backdrop showed them in some sort of infrared color palette, a thermal shadow that seemed to stretch to infinity. And while they played the next song, the effect rotated behind them, which was a bit disorienting: a musical bat spin while organ and guitar battled for the audience’s wits. At this point, as if to further befuddle, the five-piece started making subtle changes to their instruments to tweak the sound. One featured an extra floor tom but no bass to give things an even edgier grit—followed by a song with double keys and slippery bass playing, providing an even darker groove. After running through most of their new album, Indigo Meadow, and plenty of older material, I wasn’t sure if we were getting back to the surface again. Appropriately, they encored with “Black Isn’t Black,” beginning with just vocals and bass before adding guitar, drums and keys one by one, as a creepy eyeball motif writhed onscreen. And just when it felt like our own eyes had finally adjusted to the darkness of the deep, we had found our way out, not quite sure we were ready to leave. —A. Stein

 (Allah-Las play the late show tonight at Mercury Lounge.)