I bought a ticket for this show because Marissa Nadler was playing, and because I try to see her every time she comes through the area. I hadn’t previously heard Black Mountain, but a quick online listen revealed them to be a decent sounding psych rock band, with female vocals soaring over fuzzed out, heavy riffing. Also of note is the fact that Black Mountain keyboardist Jeremy Schmidt is the man behind the excellent Sinoia Caves project, who released the haunting “Beyond the Black Rainbow” soundtrack a couple of years ago. In and of itself, that made me excited for their set.
I arrived at The Independent on the early side, which is pretty much the story of my life, at least as far as live entertainment goes. Marissa Nadler appeared on stage by herself, with an electric guitar. This was a bit disappointing due to the fact that the last time I saw her, she was touring with a band, but a Marissa Nadler solo set is still better than most full bands.
With her new album set to be released shortly, it was a given that we’d be treated to some songs from it. She started out with a beautiful song called All the Colors of the Dark, and followed it up with the more aggressive sounding Strangers, with heavy psych guitar rumbling along under Nadler’s exquisite voice. It’s a bit of a new direction for her, musically speaking, and it made me excited to hear the new album.
I was right up front, and focused on the music, but at some point, the tide of voices from the back washed over me and pulled my attention away. Why the fuck do people think it’s okay to talk while a musician is performing? I understand that a lot of people were there for the headliner, but take the conversations outside, or better yet, shut up and listen to the music. At one point I turned around and yelled, which quieted a few people down, but it was a losing battle. Nadler soldiered on through the tumult of rudeness, and those of us who were there to see her did our best to ignore the conversations. A tired and hungry Greg, who had come in just as the show started (after a whirlwind couple of days of seeing Grouper twice, French Radio, and a performance by Theresa Wong featuring Carla Kihlstedt), muttered something about wanting to fucking kill people, and other nearby audience members seemed just as irate, but it seemed we were in the minority.
The voices detracted from the show, but didn’t kill it entirely. Old songs included the beautiful Dying Breed (from “Songs III: Bird on the Water”), Drive (from “July”), and the always divine Fifty Five Falls (from her long ago – well, 12 years ago, at least - debut, “Ballads of Living and Dying”). My favorite moment? It was a toss-up between the brand new Strangers and the classic Fifty Five Falls.
I only wish that the audience had been better behaved. Maybe it was a mistake for Nadler to tour with what is essentially a rock band. Maybe the douchebags really are taking over the city. I hope that the other dates on this tour weren’t as bad.
Despite being soured by Black Mountain’s rude audience, I was still interested in seeing them. Greg was less so, but decided to stick around when I promised him a ride home.
Their set was heavy, and it was the keyboards that tickled my ear the most pleasingly. That vintage synth sound is really growing on me of late (I’ve always been a fan of this kind of thing in a soundtrack context – think John Carpenter, Fabio Frizzi, Goblin, etc., not to mention Schmidt’s own Sinoia Caves). Vocalist Amber Webber possesses a voice that is powerful without sacrificing an appealing dreamy, wistful quality.
Less appealing was vocalist/guitarist Stephen McBean’s extended guitar wankery toward the end of the main set, but that is sometimes a problem with psych bands like this. I think it annoyed Greg more than it annoyed me. He actually used the word “awful” as we left (cutting out before the encore), but to be fair, he was tired and hungry. That would make me cranky too. As it was, I found that my mind wandered during the boring bits, but it didn’t seriously detract from the evening.
What did detract from the evening was the shitty audience with their shitty conversations and their lack of regard for the people around them. I can only think of one venue (the Vortex Room) where the staff demand that people be respectful during performances, and I would love to see this be standard operating procedure everywhere.
Rant over, for now.
We found an open market and bought junk food before heading across the Bay. Marissa Nadler will be back in August, and will hopefully play in front of a more appreciative crowd.