Black Mountain – The Casbah, San Diego 4-26-16

Black Mountain took the small stage at the Casbah (check out the picture below to see how little room there is for the players once all the equipment is set up) and put on an epic show.  They began with the first two songs, “Mothers of the Sun” and “Florian Saucer Attack”, off of IV, their highly anticipated new LP.  These numbers set the stage perfectly for the rest of this alternately restrained, heavy, doomy, proggy and mostly really fucking loud show!

Add in the main set’s closing number, the 9-minute opus “Space to Bakersfield”, and if these song titles suggest a hint of prog rock from years past, you’d be right on the money.  Keyboardist Jeremy Schmidt utilized his Moog synthesizer throughout the set, but especially on the new songs like the first two and others like “Defector” and “You Can Dream”.  The Moog added a retro layer – like Rush circa “Tom Sawyer” – to Black Mountain’s already varied sound.  I spoke with Schmidt after the show and he confirmed that the band is a fan of that era and style of music and it just fit naturally with the songs they were writing for this album.

In all, Black Mountain played eight of the ten tracks off of IV – which arrived just a couple of months ago after a wait of nearly six years since their last album, the excellent Wilderness Heart.  I asked songwriter/guitarist Stephen McBean about the long gap between albums and he said that it was filled with A LOT of touring for Black Mountain, plus all the members have side projects with which they record and tour as well; so actually they had all been quite busy.  He did share that he believes the next Black Mountain LP will come along much quicker this time.

Along with the new material they sprinkled songs from throughout their catalog.  “Stormy High”, from their second album, In the Future, followed the initial 1-2 punch from IV and showed just how heavy and massive Black Mountain can sound.  Next up was “Drugonaut” off their self-titled debut record, which came out in 2005.  This song starts off with a rolling bass line and funky wah wah guitar and then slowly builds until it ends with an extended psychedelic freak-out of a guitar solo. Then a couple songs later we got the set-piece, “Tyrants”, which starts with Joshua Wells laying down a long, pummeling drum part as the guitar, keys and bass join together for a heroic introduction.  This is followed by a quiet, melodic section featuring McBean and singer Amber Webber joining together on vocals.  This interlude is just a feint though as the song builds from that towards a monumental riff and  guitar solo from McBean.

While Black Mountain’s sound can be as immense as their name suggests, they also know how to provide contrast and space in their music, as all of the instruments and voices have a chance to shine on their own while still completely meshing with each other.  Singer/guitarist Amber Weber provides much of the balance to Black Mountain’s sound with her clear, and at times haunting, vibrato-laden vocals.  It is her voice as much as McBean’s huge guitar sound that helps Black Mountain stand out from the pack.  Make no mistake though – when they decide to cut loose – they are as loud as any group I’ve ever heard.  Standing near the stage during the final song, “Don’t Run Our Hearts Around”, I felt like I was taking the music in through my entire body and not just my ears.

Check out these videos from the show:  “Stormy High”   “Tyrants”   “Line Them All Up”

Here’s the setlist I submitted for the show:  Black Mountain Setlist

Side Note:  I had  chance to speak with Amber Webber after the show and asked her a couple of questions. I mentioned that the last time I saw her was there at the Casbah with her band Lightning Dust.  This group, which includes BM’s drummer Joshua Wells, is a much mellower and more melodic affair than the mother group. I asked if she minded coming back to the small, though prestigious Casbah, after playing the larger/nicer Belly Up tavern the last time Black Mountain came through town.  She reminded me that The Black Angels basically co-headlined that show with them, otherwise they wouldn’t have been able to book it.  She also said that she really liked the Casbah and how enthusiastic the fans were whenever they played there.

Learn more about Black Mountain and buy their records here at Jagjaguwar

Here are some BM side projects to check out:  Pink Mountaintops, Lightning Dust, Kodiak Deathbeds, Blood Meridian, Obliterations, Sinoia Caves, Grim Tower


Wolfmother & Deap Vally – San Diego – 3/23/16

This was the perfect double bill at the House of Blues here in San Diego.  Both groups, L.A.’s Deap Vally and Australia’s Wolfmother, are good enough and big enough to headline the venue, but with both of them they provided a real synergy where by playing together they were each better than if they were on their own.  This led to a sold out concert with the crowd showing up earlier than usual to catch the openers and then losing their minds through most of the headliner’s set.

First up was the duo Deap Vally.  The last time I caught this band was opening for Band of Skulls at the same venue a couple of years ago.  They were good then but they are WAY better now!  These two women and their music represent everything that rock n roll is all about. Their show was full of huge choruses, monstrous riffs and a ferocious intensity from start to finish.  I spoke with the drummer, Julie Edwards, after the show and she shared that they expect to have a new album out in the fall.  I will be shocked if they aren’t the headliners the next time they play this venue in San Diego.

Here are two songs from the show: the hit “Baby I Call Hell” and a new song, “Reflection”.

Next up was Wolfmother. I remember the exact moment I discovered this retro-leaning hard-rocking Aussie power trio.  I was on an airplane watching a surf video on my laptop and the song “Woman” was used for an sequence featuring Kelly Slater in the Quiksilver video Young Guns 2 (the scene starts at 24:40).  As soon as I got home I picked up their self-titled debut album and have been a fan ever since.

Since that 2005 debut the group has been through a lot of turmoil and lineup changes and we discovered that the band really was just guitarist/singer Andrew Stockdale and whoever played with him.  Regardless of all the drama- Wolfmother brings back the rock that I grew up with, combining elements of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Thin Lizzy and mixing it with the modern hard rock of groups like the White Stripes.  And all of this was shown on stage this night as they played  a 19 song set from throughout their career. This was the rare concert where the band did not leave out a single song that I wanted to hear. [here’s the setlist from the show]

Wolfmother came out of the gates as a fully formed hard rock behemoth in 2005; then grew even more powerful after the followup LP, the epic Cosmic Egg, dropped in 2009.  After that the band seemed to lose its way somewhat, with Stockdale releasing a solo album, Keep Moving, in 2013 and a hurried third Wolfmother LP titled New Crown 2014.  While these were both solid albums they seemed to be almost brushed aside by both Stockdale and the fans.  At this show there were no songs played from Keep Moving and only one song off of New Crown, the hard charging “How Many Times”.  But based on the quality of their new album, Victorious, and the sold out crowd’s rapturous reception at this show, I believe the band has returned to form and is ready to continue what it started over a decade ago.

Here’s the title track off their new album, “Victorious” from the House of Blues show.