Lately, Vancouver, British Columbia’s Black Mountain and Austin, Texas’ Black Angels have been two of the most buzzed-about bands in rock ‘n’ roll.
Everyone from online hipster outlet Pitchfork to print stalwart Rolling Stone has toasted Black Mountain’s classic rock riffs and the Black Angels’ psych-rock drones.
And somewhat coincidentally, the bands are playing together, co-headlining the appropriately titled Dropout Boogie Tour in Europe, the U.S. and Canada.
But despite their differences in style and the 2,300 miles that separate their hometowns, these two bands share far more than similar, color-specific names.
“There are a lot of coincidences,” said Black Mountain bandleader Stephen McBean recently. “We both just put our third record out and they came out on the same day. We both worked with (Grammy-winning producer) Dave Sardy this time. We’re both pretty close in size. And we’ve both been tagged with the ‘trip down memory lane’ thing and mine different but similar fields. There’s a lot of stuff happening with us. But the shows have been great, and they definitely feel bigger than either of us on our own.”
Black Angels frontman Alex Maas shares the feeling of camaraderie and sees the partnership as something that was bound to happen.
“It’s something that we had wanted to do for a while,” said Maas from a Chicago tour stop. “They’re just really nice people. We toured with (McBean’s other band) Pink Mountaintops before and had talked about doing a tour with Black Mountain at some point. But with everything going on, we didn’t think we’d be able to work it out. But it seems that now is the right time.”
While each band has its own unmistakable sound, their musical paths have shared even more uncanny similarities as of late.
Not only did Sept. 14 mark the date of each respective outfit’s third full-length release, both albums marked the first time that either band had left their hometown to record. And while both groups had shown a penchant for long, extended jams in the past, each of the new records feature shorter, more focused anthems and distinct changes in sound.
“It was good for us to change things up and take a chance this time,” said Black Mountain’s McBean. “It’s nice to work with a bit of conflict and fear of failure. We don’t want to just replicate the albums. We always want to add new life to them. But it certainly wasn’t a plan at the start. The songs just led us in that direction. As much as it’s a challenge to write a 17-minute song, it’s also a challenge for us to whittle it down. But it’s awesome to have something that encapsulates everything that we do in four minutes.”
Maas has similar feelings about the Black Angels’ process.
“It was all about the situation,” he said. “It wasn’t as much about getting out of Austin as it was working with Dave Sardy. I think we would have made the same record in Milwaukee or Denver. But we didn’t want to make something entirely different like a hip-hop record or anything. Yet, at the same time, we didn’t want something that was easy or just more of the same. We thought it was healthy to do a lot of things that we’d never done before.”
Whether it’s serendipity or some kind of rock ‘n’ roll mind meld, it’s obvious that the two bands are sharing more than just the stage every night. Both of their albums have been well-received by critics and fans alike, while those excited to catch both acts in a single night have seen a tour where both acts are completely enjoying themselves.
“I think the new songs add a different dynamic to the live show,” Maas said. “And we look forward to playing them every night for that exact reason. It pushes us to try things we’ve never done before. This whole thing has just been a blast.”
Not surprisingly, McBean echoes his counterpart’s feelings.
“It’s been fun,” he said. “I always like it when you go and see a band and they change things live. It just makes it more exciting. And there’s always going to be people who like one record better than the other. That’s fine. But you shouldn’t let the fans dictate where you go. Hopefully, you do what you do, take some chances, and bring your fans along for the ride.
“There may be some arguments between fans on which band is better, but between the bands, there are no issues about who’s got the bigger rider or backstage area. For us, it’s just a celebration of music.”
Black Mountain and the Black Angels
When: 9 p.m. Nov. 23
Where: Belly Up Tavern, 143 S. Cedros Ave., Solana Beach
Originally printed in the Preview section of the North County Times, November 18, 2010.