Arriving at the 75-year-old Vogue Theatre for a Black Mountain show is a lot like it was showing up at the now defunct Rumpus Room on Main Street for a Sunday brunch. The hair is greasy, the moustaches are ridiculous, and the clothing is pre-owned; which is not necessarily indicative of audience socioeconomic status. Many of the hats worn are reminiscent of an old-timey paper boy shilling the local rag outside of Music City on the corner of Sunset and Vine in the 1940’s. By the 40’s the newscap, much like the local paper competing against neighbouring NBC studios was thought to have summited its peak, but dammit if current day Mount Pleasant, New Westminster or any era Brian Johnson or Angus Young (AC/DC) aren’t bent on bringing it back.
Reviving what was thought to be in the rear view mirror was a running theme the other night at 918 Granville Street. For starters, though Black Mountain is still technically playing in support of their 2016 release IV, the hometown boys and girl put a noticeable emphasis on the old material; notably 2008’s In The Future. Starting the set with “Angels”, “Queens Will Play”, and “Tyrants” chronologically, the psychedelic rock group was sure to evoke audience enthusiasm by leaning heavily on the brawny second album in their catalogue. Later in the set, Stephen McBean and cohorts would go on to add “Wucan” rounding out the majority of the highlights (save for the 16+ minute track “Bright Lights”) from the eye-opening Polaris Music Prize nominated LP.
The Vogue Theatre cooling system (which may be as advanced as opening the doors) was not done any favours Friday night, as the unusually warm evening outside coupled with a packed auditorium inside translated into a swelteringly hot concert venue.
Those who have seen Black Mountain live can attest to the voice of Amber Webber being even more incredible in person than recorded, and such was the case again on Friday night.
Having played just a handful of in-town shows as a full unit (Waldorf 2012, Malkin Bowl 2015, Commodore 2016) since the famed double-header Dropout Boogie Tour of 2010, fans of Black Mountain were appreciative from the first chord to the last. Needless to say, working one’s way up to the front of the crowd was deceivingly more arduous of a task than it is during most contemporary shows.
Despite the immense heat and propensity for the five-piece to ‘jam-out’ a little more than some find constructive, the set did not feel drawn out or long in anyway. In fact, if anything the set-time felt just right even bordering on short.
As a testament to the staying power of the written word, Black Mountain is the first show attended in Vancouver since Puscifer in late 2015 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre where spotting a cellphone became so challenging, it was almost a game. Despite McBean having a choice description of the cellphone camera using concert-goer ahead of their show in May 2016, there were still more phones in the air at the following Commodore show than there was during Friday night’s Vogue Theatre performance. A clever ploy for an artist who understandably does not want his soul stripped of him by audience cameras, McBean’s comment ‘people getting their phones out at shows is now seen as kind of lame” noticeably resonated with the loyal fanbase. Those who dared attempt a photo with their phones received prompt glares and without a doubt viewed as ‘lame’ by the slow but sure to disseminate the singer’s thoughts Black Mountain faithful. The now six-year resident of LA’s opinion may have meandered to reach the masses due to the apparent options to communicate having been dwindled down to home telephones with plastic spring-like coil cords attached to them or long-form handwritten notes only. That said, there is now a certain irony to every concert shot found on the Black Mountain official Instagram account, of which there are a few.
Considering the array of other projects each member of the unit is part of it’s tough to say whether the approaching 50-year-old McBean and company have lost their drive in the collective project. One can never tell if the hippie-rocker shoe-gazing demeanour stems from a lack of passion or is purely a necessity to achieve band aesthetic. Admittedly the set length was average, the material albeit strong leant on yesteryear, and the visible enthusiasm on stage was questionable. However, (and this is a big one) the sound of each and every player was dynamic and spot-on with the source material. The versatility of the three songs from IV showed elements of Lightning Dust and Pink Mountain Tops in them, but even more so the profound synth playing of keyboardist Jeremy Schmidt (Sinoia Caves).
The harmonies shared by Webber and McBean were as commendable and textured as they have ever been delivered. The guitars are heavier than last this reviewer witnessed the act live, and the bass was felt in the chest cavity regardless of where in the venue the show was being observed.
The full wall of sound Black Mountain projects live is considerably stronger in its delivery than ever before.
The industry could do well with several impassioned Black Mountain albums, especially given the current state of rock music. With the resurgence of the 90’s currently taking its lap as the trend de’jour it could be interesting to see how Black Mountain fairs when in the blink of an eye the crawling king snake of the psychedelic 70’s slithers its way back to being en vogue. If Black Mountain decides to hit the recording studio for a fifth LP it would be no surprise given the strength of Amber Webber’s voice to see the serpent to not be king at all; rather more Freddie Mercury than Jim Morrison.
Black Mountain Setlist
Queens Will Play
You Can Dream
Line Them All Up
Mothers Of The Sun
Space To Bakersfield