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Black Mountain, The Lexington, Islington, July 13th 2010

July 19, 2010

Vancouver-based band Black Mountain first came to my attention at the Green Man Festival two years ago. I think I’d heard a couple of their songs before then and liked the pounding rock riffs done in a slightly psychedelic vibe, but live at Green Man they were great – very heavy indeed. I immediately bought their latest album, In The Future, and loved it. So I was keen to see them play this intimate pub gig, even though it meant racing across from the Eurostar terminus at St Pancras on my return from sunny Paris. I even handed over a 5 Euro note at the bar instead of a fiver… oops.

The gig sold out ages ago, but there was plenty of room up front, so I parked myself stage centre for support band Dark Horses, a psych-rock outift from Brighton with a heavy edge. They have a real 60s vibe to them, with cool Bridget Riley-style lighting, and the lead singer wears a poncho, for goodness’ sake. She has a great voice, though, and the music’s pleasantly trancey and slightly gothy. There’s also a cool-looking leather-clad dude bashing a big metal can with a chain – he’s called ‘Tommy Chain’, according to their MySpace page. I was half expecting Velvet Underground stage performer Gerard Malanga to join him in a frenzy of whips, but alas no. All good stuff and I must check them out again.

Black Mountain took the stage to a big cheer, but it was apparent fairly quickly that there were guitar amp problems. For a lot of bands, that wouldn’t be a huge problem, but Black Mountain’s guitarist, Stephen McBean, is a maestro with a huge array of effects buttons and pedals, all of them put to brilliant use. The show stopped several times for him to fiddle with the amp, change it for another one and then change back, but it didn’t spoil the evening – in fact, it gave the band a chance to interact with the audience more than perhaps they would have done.

There were a couple of songs from the first album, but the core of the set was comprised of songs from their last album, the excellent In The Future. Queens Will Play was very swirly and psychedelic – sort of Jefferson Airplane meets Motorhead. Co-singer Amber Webber has a fine voice and at times sounds like Siouxsie. In fact, much of the music does, too, at the heavier end of not-quite-goth Banshees. That reminds me, I must dig out the wonderfully over-the-top Banshees live double album Nocturne that used to scare the bejeebers out of friends when I played it in my student days… “I’m your little voodoo dolly!”

The drumming was top-notch as the band launched into the frantic drive of Tyrants‘ opening bars and the song gave the keyboard-player a chance to shine. He has an old Moog, an organ and regular keyboards, and he showed wonderful versatility throughout the set.Tyrants is a slower song than most of the others and has a Floydish vibe, but more Moogy, then a bit of Stairwayish flute, but all with a psychy background and vocal.  And then there’s an almost heavy metal crunch towards the end. Perhaps there’s one change of pace too many in the song, but it’s all done with great flair.

Evil Ways is another keyboard-player’s dream in the style of Jon Lord (of Deep Purple fame). By the way, I wonder if anyone else remembers that Paice, Ashton and Lord movie that used be shown in the late 70s as support for the main feature (that’s if they didn’t show that tedious travelogue short about hang-gliding in the Alps). If memory serves, it was certainly a worthy forerunner to Spinal Tap in its hilarious pomposity…

Angels is another slower song, but with its 90s-esque keyboard and girl/boy harmony in the chorus it reminds me of a heavy version of Suede. The major influences on the band, though, are resolutely at the heavy end of rock – Black Sabbath, Motorhead, Deep Purple and proggier bands such as Focus – but it would be very wrong to think of them as mere copyists. They have very much their own style and sound and the newer songs, from the soon-to-be-released new album, have a bluesier and more sensuous vibe about them than those on the last album. Several times they really hit a fine groove while jamming away.

The mighty Wucan from In The Future features an irresistible riff and a Kashmir-ish drone in the background on the keyboards, but what made it memorable was another amp blow-out, which forced the Moog solo to become extremely extended – to brilliant effect. From hard rock, the sound morphed into a Krautrock jam and finally into a fully blown Kraftwerk episode. I loved it and wonder if they’ll keep this super-extended solo in the set even when there aren’t amp problems. It was then time for the blissed-out and acoustic Stay Free. The gentle rhythm and high vocal reminds me rather of Something In The Air, and it shares that song’s indefinable wistfulness, a nostalgia for something you can’t quite put your finger on. It’s echoey, bucolic and just beautiful. I wouldn’t complain if the band pursued the acoustic route a bit more in the future.

The climax of the show, not surprisingly, was Stormy High, the stand-out track from the last album, with its pounding drums, crunching riff and chanting vocals. It ended what was a great evening from a very fine band. I’ll certainly see more of them in the future. And talking of In The Future, here’s Wucan from that album:

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