At the Vogue Theatre on Friday, March 10
Kicking off a brief West Coast tour, Vancouver’s own local heroes Black Mountain mightily headlined a triple bill in a packed Vogue Theatre on Friday night. This gig had an electronic act, an acoustic act, and a world-class rock 'n' roll band all in one shot.
Amsterdam dance-rockers Zzz opened up the show with a dark and loud performance. For a two-piece with a minimal drum-and-organ arrangement, they sure packed a lot of noise. Driving percussion, combined with game-show-emulating keyboard sounds had the early audience bopping to the beat as they sipped their first drinks.
Considering Black Mountain’s first release was a split 7” with Destroyer, it seems fitting to have them both on a bill. Dan Bejar performed graciously on a red Guild Westerly Dreadnought guitar, with a hundred or so gazing fans paying close attention at the front. Behind them was a crowd in deep conversation and rants about email arguments with co-workers, having an itchy leg, breaking the “seal” early, and the post-workweek chatter was so deafening that Bejar’s performance was inaudible at times. A damn shame, as he played songs such as “Times Square” and “The River” beautifully.
Black Mountain casually came on-stage and fans burst out into cheers and applause. They opened with the song they are named after, written by singer-guitarist Steve McBean and drummer Joshua Wells prior to the formation of the band, but only released recently. Amber Webber joined McBean on vocals, and the two captivated the audience with their haunting harmonies. This might be one of only a few times the band has tackled the track live, and it commanded the attention of the audience immediately. Wells, keyboardist Jeremy Schmidt, and newest addition Brad Truax (rocking a dad hat and a killer Angus Young facial expression) on bass joined them halfway through, bringing the energy in the room from about a two to a nine in a matter of minutes.
The setlist was heavy on songs from 2008’s In the Future, including "Stormy High", "Angels", "Tyrants", "Wucan", and "Queens Will Play", a slow-burner that erupts into an epic wall of sound. Wilderness Heart did not receive the same treatment, with "Rollercoaster"being the lone track performed from that 2010 album. Nonetheless, a small mosh pit broke out during this and a number of other tracks with a group of teenagers getting the most out of this all-ages event.
The backdrop was a blown-up image from the inner artwork of the latest release, IV. Black Mountain usually keeps the lighting minimal for effect, as it is clear the band is on display here. Sound-wise the vocals were far too quiet for the first three or four songs, but eventually evened out. Schmidt’s analogue keyboards cut through the mix, The mood was upbeat and positive, with Webber smiling frequently and McBean telling the audience that the band was happy to be playing for their “favourite people”.
The selections from IV were essentially the same as those performed at Black Mountain's Commodore gig last year. Punky number "Florian Saucer Attack" delivered on all fronts, and Webber displayed her extraordinary vocal versatility with an uncharacteristic urgency to the lyrics. Her voice combined with McBean’s is what makes this band unique, and they were both dead-on the entire night. They dove into some unexpected material from the aforementioned album, with "You Can Dream" being a delightfully trippy mid-set refresher.
Closing the set with "Space to Bakersfield", the five-piece played what would be the closest thing to Ummagumma on this side of the Atlantic, with Floyd-esque guitar work and swooping keyboard solos. McBean’s thick guitar tone sounded even chunkier than usual, as he played a golden Gibson Les Paul through both a Fender Twin Reverb and a HiWatt/Marshall half stack, and about 25 different effects pedals.
They returned for a two-song encore, beginning with a slightly shortened version of one of their most powerful songs to date, “Mothers of the Sun”, which led into their 2008 Sub Pop single “Lucy Brown” to end the show, with the band building up into a space-rock climax. Webber and McBean then left the stage while the rest of the band kept going, until eventually Wells thanked the audience and they waved while they exited stage left. This evening had an eclectic mix of musical offerings, with Black Mountain powerfully displaying once again why they are one of Vancouver’s greatest all-time bands.