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The Black Angels & Sleepy Sun Live At San Francisco's Slim's Has Them Dropping Like Flies...Or, Brown Acid Makes A Comeback! MORE OR, Hydras, Phosphene, And Shamen OH MY!

Black Angels Ascending & Waiting To Take The Stage At Slim's
Friday San Francisco's Slim's played host to a sold-out mini "West Coast Psyche Fest", as Austin's, The Black Angels, were in town in behind last year's epic release, Phosphene Dream. The mighty Texans were supported by SF's own titans or "trip-RAWK" Sleepy Sun, for a show that blew minds and the doors of the SOMA club. While San Francisco may be viewed as the Mecca of the garage-psyche scene, anyone in the know, knows, it is more the genre's Medina. To continue the extended metaphor, Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators brought psychedelia to SF from Texas like musical Muhammads. His "freak out, drone and groan" took root in the city by the bay and the rest is as they say, one version of history. On the approach to the club it was clear that their was a lot of the infamous "Brown Acid" circulating around. I witnessed several attendees trying to get right after getting real gone before the show. Inside they were dropping like flies as the music overwhelmed some who hadn't found the right ratio of booze-to pills-to pot-to (insert psychedelic of choice). It was kind of refreshing to be in an environment that felt as authentic as the bands on the bill.

Sleepy Sun's Bret Constantino
Sleepy Sun had the audience in full rapture when I entered, delivering a truly inspired performance of the HEAVY. Their sound has always reminded me a bit of Led Zeppelin's in that it is blues-based and versatile for a genre that too often seems content to recreate instead of innovate. With the departure of former "Sun" Rachel Fannan (off pursuing her solo ambitions), I was curious how this would influence the band's dynamic. All questions were answered however, as Sleepy Sun tore through their set with a more focused and refined sensibility. Singer, Bret Constantino, was in full shaman mode confident and comfortable in his role as leader of a band that has limitless directions to explore musically. For me there is no more evident example of this than the song "Lord" off their debut Embrace. The song is a meditative piano-driven ballad with an odd time signature and a beautiful guitar hook that lazes around the core melody. Constantino has a wonderful instrument in his voice and the rest of the band have the chops to take the music to places they may still, as yet, be unaware of going. New song "Toys" hints at the possibilities that await this most interesting of local bands. Their music has a sway and often dreamlike quality to it, which suddenly erupt into punishing grooves. Having seen Sleepy Sun on several occasions over the last couple of years, this was by far my "Ah ha!" moment. 2010's Fever seems to be the tip of the iceberg for this quintet and the time spent touring has turned them a real force on stage. Constanino's natural charisma filled any void left by Fannan's absence.
The Black Angels in strobes inducing phosphene dreams...
The Black Angels have often been called purists in regard to their devotion to what some view a retro-obsessed style of music. Let me say for the record this band is as forward leaning in their music as anyone on the music scene today. Too often bands play coy with influence and inspiration, as if their music comes out of some vacuum. What The Black Angels have always done, particularly with Phosphene Dream, is appropriate the musical touchstones of previous generations into something that feels fresh and of THIS moment. This is not a band that mimics, this is a band that continues a conversation that started in the mid-60's, recontextualizing their musical heroes for these times. The wave of excitement that swept through the room when they hit the stage was palpable. They have built a devout fanbase through years of constant touring and the relentless pursuit of achieving collective transcendence in the live medium. From the pounding tribal beat of their opener, audience and band alike, were off on a journey where the destination wasn't as important as how we were going to get there.

Black Angel, Alex Maas
Bandleader Alex Maas has the kind of voice that oozes cool, while not sounding affected or studied. He's the kind of guy you want leading you into the psychedelic forest the band inhabits because you know he won't let you get too lost. Driven by the propulsive drumming juggernaut that is Stephanie Bailey, songs like "Bad Vibrations" cut a swath through Slim's. Part of the fun was watching the audience snap out of its trance when songs ended, needing time to reorient and process. Other numbers like "Sunday Afternoon" have a sass that kept people moving while remaining transfixed - not an easy feat. The Black Angels songs are often anchored, in addition to Bailey's ground and pound, by walking basslines that often tweak the blues formula just enough to make the familiar seem strange and dark. It's the one instrument that gets passed around between band members. I could see the jams taking place back in Austin with someone stumbling on a riff and "Angels" reaching for whatever instruments are within arms reach to push the idea foreword. Kyle Hunt, Nate Ryan, Christian Bland and Maas create a supernatural drone on guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, and shakers. "You On the Run" from the album Direction To See A Ghost is a perfect example of the otherworldly quality to the band's music. It sounds like the soundtrack to a Hydra's journey through the underwater world. The inventive use of strobes facing the band projected against a simple black and white wave designed backdrop, created the "phosphene dream" that inspired the album's title. The crowd was locked in with the band from the opening notes to the final tone diminished into the night air. This is "freak out" music done with elegance, respect, and a sense of ritual. You know a show is good when everyone waiting in line for the bathroom turn into a bunch of Chatty Cathy's. People left the club wild-eyed and looking for a place to go continue what The Black Angels set in motion, a fevered dream that felt communal.
A lot of stuff was being passed around, trust me...
So often I go to shows and wonder how different they would be in a more hallowed and romanticized decade. I left The Black Angels and Sleepy Sun show at Slim's knowing that there was no better experience to be had in any other dimension of time or space. This is why we go to see live music, to experience something that takes you out of the normal and inserts you into the possible. These bands prove that it is possible to have one foot in the past and the other in the future, while straddling the decades between...and that's not just the  "Brown Acid" talking.
This is RAWK!!

So is this....

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