“Take some tape to re-affix your face afterwards!”, wrote my friend and The Revue colleague Hollie Daugherty to me. It was important advice, as I was leaving to see Black Mountain‘s first appearance in Wellington, New Zealand.
After traveling across the Pacific and playing in Auckland the night before, the Vancouver-based, psychedelic prog-rockers could have mailed it in, and no one would have blamed them. They could just played their entire new album, IV, and called it a night. The veteran rockers, though, treated this gig like it would be their last, playing with their trademark intensity and offering an onslaught of face-melting song after face-melting song from their vast discography.
Black Mountain kicked off the night with the one-two combination of “Mothers of the Sun” and “Florian Saucer Attack” from IV. The combination set the tone for the rest of the night, showcasing the band’s love for slow-building epics and ear-splitting rockers. With the crowd in a frenzy, the quintet launched into one of their treasures, the soul annihilating “Stormy High” from their landmark In The Future, which had people grooving and fist pumping.
The underrated and titillating psych-rocker “Cemetery Breeding” settled things down, as people slowly swayed to the smooth harmonies of co-front singers Amber Webber and Stephen McBean. But then the dim fire in Bodega was set ablaze when McBean strutted the power chords and keyboardist Jeremy Schmidt hammered the notes for “Tyrants”, which is one of the best song written in the past decade. A silence fell on the crowd after the pace-setting opening, as everyone was enchanted by McBean’s vocal delivery and then awakened by Webber’s haunting intervention. Watching bassist Colin Cowan (who is awfully underrated) and drummer Joshua Wells during this track was awe-inspiring, as they set the tone during the song’s dramatic climax.
Two songs from IV would follow. “You Can Dream” was played with an extra layer of dreaminess than what is heard on the album. “Line Them Up” was given a more fiery ending but without sacrificing its lushness and allowing Webber’s vocals to shine.
For a while, it seemed Black Mountain would ignore their third album, Wilderness Heart, entirely, but then came “Rollercoaster”. The band ramped up the tempo and the psychedelia to transform this original slow rocker into a scorcher. It bled into “Old Fangs”, which was given a power-rock makeover.
To end the set, they dabbled back to In The Future and unleashed the whirling, psychedelic monster “Wucan”. The memorable chords from McBean’s guitar were trance-like, and they provided the perfect bridge to the hypnotic epic, “Space to Bakersfield”. Originally a 10-minute song, the band further extended it to finish the main set in a wall of blazing sound. If the show ended then, everyone would have gone home happy, but, of course, they returned for a two-song encore.
While two songs may seem short, for a band like Black Mountain it could feel like an eternity. They ended the gig by revisiting their debut album, Black Mountain, which celebrated his 10th birthday last year. “No Hits” was a clever choice because despite their popularity and success they have never achieved top-40, mainstream success even in Canada. But on this night, they were clearly the stars. “No Hits” also allowed them to go deep into their bag of tricks – buzzing effects, power chords, hammering rhythms, and stark vocals. The concert ended with another underrated track from their discography, “Don’t Run Our Hearts Around”. Like the other songs, they transformed this slow-building number that started off as a groovy, danceable number but finished as an intense, mind-boggling arena rocker.
There wasn’t a single dry soul at Bodega. Every person left with the ears ringing and the face distorted. Maybe I should have brought the tape after all, but on this night who cares how we look. We just had experienced a rock performance that no one will soon forget.
The photos provided are by Stella Gardiner, who is one of Wellington’s most respected photographers. Special thanks to her and Libel Music for permission to use the photos. If there was one complaint about the show, it would be that they didn’t play “Druganaut”, but I’ve shared the song in this review anyway.
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