Black Mountain Blows The Doors Off D.C.’s Rock and Roll Hotel

  • Black Mountain is the rare band that is tighter live than in the studio.   Last night they came to D.C.’s Rock and Roll Hotel and had a volcanic eruption.  
  • Stephen McBean was a surprisingly low-key front man, given how dominant his singing is on both Black Mountain and sister-band Pink Mountaintops records, and he seemed more comfortable playing guitar back by the amps while Amber Webber held the center stage.  From the moment they struck up “Stormy High” from their new LP “In The Future,” it was clear that Black Mountain is one highly gelled unit, as tight as the Stones in ’69, more propulsive than Led Zeppelin, with greater psychedelic range than any of the San Francisco bands or even the “Ummagumma”-era Pink Floyd.  Yeah, I know the company I’m putting them in.  I don’t do it casually.
  • Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that Matthew Camirand and Joshua Wells were riveted together, the most urgent rhythm section on God’s green Earth, at least since John Bonham slipped away.  After all, they’re the heart and soul of Blood Meridian, but that’s an alt-country band, for cryin’ out loud. Camirand finger picks a Gibson bass while Wells wallops his drum kit like John Henry besting the infernal machine.  Interestingly, on “Druganaut”–  which is a killer in both recorded versions, but last night was played at a looser, ever so slightly slower tempo — Wells plays the beat backwards, they way Charlie Watts plays reggae.  It was very subtle, and magnificent.
  • Amber Webber sings in a warbly ululation like a Yemeni widow at a funeral procession, but she basically just stands there, cool as a cucumber.  For a band so centered on call-and-response vocals — all kidding aside, Webber and McBean are not unlike Sly Stone and his sister going back and forth in “Dance to the Music” — she and McBean are exceptionally easy going.
  • McBean looks like he purposely is trying to scare young children, with his thick long hair and black beard, but he plays the guitar like a genie.  “That guitarist carried the band,” I heard some kids say on the street as we left the surprisingly Mudd Club-like Rock And Roll Hotel.  I disagree — the MVP for this outing, and I suspect others, is clearly Joshua Wells — but McBean’s at least on par with Dave Gilmour in being able to project a band like this into deep space.
  • In the review of “In The Future,” Tulip Frenzy earlier chided them for channeling Deep Purple, but Jeremy Schmidt’s keyboards pay as much of a debt to Pere Ubu’s Alan Ravenstine’s analog synth as they do to, say, Keith Emerson.
  • The set was a surprisingly fast-paced sonic goo, never bogging down into vanilla fudge, even on the loooong songs.  “Stormy High” kicked off the set, and they played most of “In The Future,” before finishing up with a one-two punch of “Druganaut” and “No Satisfaction” from their first album.  I’m used to the campfire version of “No Satisfaction,” but this was pure punk rock. 
  • Under most circumstances, listening to a band invoke the early ’70s sound of pre-heavy metal psychedelia is not my idea of fun.  I’m kind of stunned that in 2008, the best real rock’n’roll around is being made by a band just this side of prog.  But it’s all true.  Black Mountain blew the doors off the Rock and Roll Hotel.
NPR helpfully aired the whole thing.  Want to hear what I’m talking about? Link here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=19086361

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