The city air was thick, suffocating the streetlights in an orange haze. An ominous halo glowed around a sliver of a moon hanging through the clouds, pale as death, telling of an early morning rain. Deep in the heart of downtown, the Blues battled away on the ice with the warriors from LA in a fight for supremacy while even deeper in the heart of the city, a group of tramps and scamps fought their own battle, awaiting eviction from their poverty shack shelters. All with the mighty Mississippi slowly rising, ready to swallow it all up with total indifference.
Just down the road from all of this, under the blue and whites lights of the AT&T sign, a crowd began to form.
Wall of Death walked onto the stage and played for those who were wise enough to come out early. Marking its start in Paris in 2010, the up and coming post-psychedelic trio surprised the audience with unmistakable Pink Floyd vibes via a 12-string electric guitar, keyboard and drums that created a sound that was easy to get lost in: echoing melodies, droning and entrancing lyrics, with a subtle light show of cycling colors projected on monolithic white canvases that foreshadowed a more intense display soon to come.
Handpicked by the Black Angels themselves after being impressed by a show in Brussels, Europe in 2010, Wall of Death has had quite a companionship with the American band. "We enjoy them and they enjoy our shows," said Adam Ghoubali through a heavy French accent. "They called us to do the European tour with them, which was awesome. After, we planned on doing other things like playing at Psych Fest, and recording the album (Main Obsessions) with them, and here we are now." It will be exciting to see what the future holds for these young, aspiring artists.
The Kings weren't the only LA kids in town last night. With the crowd growing more massive and even more intoxicated, Hanni el Khatib entered stage left and proceeded to jam with fuzz in full force. The singer-songwriter from the City of Angels brought an ensemble with him that included the always warm and welcome sound of a harpsichord. Showing a deep respect and infatuation with classic American rock 'n' roll, he creates a sound that many would recognize as in the same vein as the Black Keys. With his guitar, labeled 'TEX' in Wal-Mart mailbox letters across the body, he played through an assortment of fuzzed-out blues rock, and even covered the '30s classic by Sam Theard, "You Rascal You." In the midst of the performance, the artists attempted to start some crowd participation with a rhythmic hand clap. But the crowd was waiting for something else.
The lines began to truly show the scale of the headcount, as people patiently waited next to the Galaga machine for a pint to drink in one direction, and to take a leak in the other direction. From the bar side to the schwag side, things were getting tight. The sauced-up spectators squeezed and shoved their way to a proper spot, trampling defenseless hipsters in their wake, as they eagerly awaited the headlining act from Austin, Texas.
Finally, the crowd's attention was fully captured as the all too recognizable Morrison beard of front man Alex Maas appeared on the bandstand as the rest of the Angels followed. As the first strum of the guitar was played and the mind-blowing visualizations were cast upon the once plain white canvases, the spectators were instantly brought back to the acid-crazed days of the '60s with the heavy, melancholy melodies that the Black Angels are known for.
Colors and shapes warped wildly on everything -- the backdrop, the band, the heads of spectators, resulting in a total immersion with the music. While much of the set focused on tracks off the Angels' new album, classics from their previous records were peppered throughout the two-hour set. The crowd was not disappointed, evident by the birth of a new line trailing in front of the merch table after the show.
While Blues fans may write my essay for me not have gotten what they wanted last night in St. Louis, the music fans at the Firebird did: a night of good tunes, good booze and good company. Until the next time.
All photos by Mike Gualdoni.