Austin, Texas comes to Manchester, England in the form of the sixties throwback – I don’t know, was the sixties actually that great? Like, deserving of rampant nostalgia from a lot of people who weren’t even alive when it happened? The music we know about is great, sure, but we’ve had decades enough for all the crap to be sifted out of the public conscious.
The Velvet Underground remain part of the pantheon whilst Herman’s Hermits fade from memory, just as we’ll all forget about The Reytons in 50 years but Fat White Family and Ice Spice will be deified as cult heroes. And the sixties probably weren’t that great if you were somebody fighting for basic human rights while your government were more bothered about putting a bloke on the moon, or if planes kept dropping agent orange over your village, or if you were rotting in a gulag in Siberia. I don’t know. That’s just, like, my opinion, man.
Anyway, its sixties throwback garage psych band The Black Angels, and I am dosed up to eleven on Lemsip, and on a strict no beer tonight ruling from the doctor in my head (well, maybe one) so let’s see how it goes.
Whether or not murky rock and roll can remedy a nagging and persistent throat infection remains to be seen. There’s some excitement on socials and inside Manchester’s iconic New Century Hall for the performance, this being the penultimate night of a lengthy European tour in support of their sixth album, 2022’s Wilderness of Mirrors, which did very well on the end of year roundups.
For what it’s worth, having not been since it reopened last year, New Century is a nice venue. The floor is all bouncy, maybe in anticipation of the sheer number of bovver boots that’ll tread its boards, and the lights are just the right shades of disco. Hooray for the NOMA redevelopment scheme – it only took a million years.
Step one on the itinerary – identify the support act, because I can’t find who they are online for the life of me, and they haven’t done me the favour of gaffer (gaffa?) taping the name on the bass drum. Which is Tamar Aphek, I’m told. If school taught me anything, it’s to ask when you don’t know the answer.
I surely can’t now in good faith pretend I was previously aware of her. Tamar Aphek is an Israeli singer-songwriter who I’ve followed for some time. Highly dynamic with militarist drumming, hammering bass and violent guitar leads, early on the set perhaps suffers from the room still only steadily filling up. The sound is certainly big enough to fill rooms like this, so it’s a shame it reflects unkindly.
It gets progressively better as more and more people arrive, and a thinly-veiled attempt at endearing the growing crowd – the bassist tells us he’s changed his Waze (dunno, car thing) voice to a Manchester accent – goes down well. Fickle Mancunians! (later on, one of The Black Angels wears an Oasis shirt – cheap moves).
Now for the headliners. It’s not quite a sell out, but The Black Angels take the stage to big cheers. Andrew Oldham Orchestra’s ‘The Last Time’ blares out over the PA; Richard Ashcroft is crying somewhere into an anti-vax pamphlet.
Two left handed guitarists on stage – a big dub for us southpaws, shame we’re going to hell. Some really pretty psychedelic lighting, twisting, illusionary patterns and blossoming flowers, til a stray orange beam hits me square in the eyes. Fair play, sixties.
No real time for chatter between songs, the occasional pleasantries notwithstanding. Instead it’s pure psychedelia, garage rock, drones, hypnotic rhythms, dreamlike and commanding vocals.
Some standout tracks, to prove I know my stuff: ‘El Jardin’, lead single on the newish record and immediate staple. ‘Firefly’, a bit of a left turn, more poppy than the rest, with some French lyrics for good measure (sixties!) and ‘Black Grease’, second to last in the main set, because it’s their all timer.
Well oiled, professional and dark as Bandido Nation leather, The Black Angels barnstorm through twenty years of sonic synaesthesia in a tight ninety minutes.
I can’t feign surprise at an encore – I’m well aware of the formula: (extensive discography + still 30 mins until curfew = more songs) and my dwell time on setlist.fm is significant, so I know invariably what follows when bands say “thank you, Manchester” and vacate the stage.
It’s a perfectly taken encore though, following an unchallengeable rubric – mix best tracks of latest album, fan favourites and your most played song on streaming services.
Am I still ill? Yes. But it was a Thursday far better spent enjoying The Black Angels than it would’ve been throwing up at Question Time.