Black Mountain
The Great South Pacific Tuning Fork, Auckland, NZ
September 30th, 2016
5/5 stars
Review by RUBEN MITA

 

Vector Arena hosted two musical events on Friday night, but I highly doubt there were many people torn between the two. One, playing out in the main venue, was the annual dance party OurHouse, drawing swarms of electronic music fans with its list of guest DJs.

But amidst them was a different, older crowd, making its way to the smaller (and thankfully Max Key-free) venue tucked into the side of the Arena, the Great South Pacific Tuning Fork, to witness the first ever New Zealand show by Vancouverian prog-rockers Black Mountain.

The mix of a middle-aged crowd with younger viewers hungry for some stomping metal riffs says a lot about the band. It shows their stylistic connections with classic rock of the past as well as their appeal to the modern musical world. This last part is the most important to remember, as at no point in the concert did the music feel overly derivative or nostalgic. Instead, the five-piece delivered an arresting set of simultaneously atmospheric, heavy, groovy and lush sounds that transcended my expectations of the band based on their recorded work.

Mothers Of The Sun opened the night, building on three minutes of celestial synthesisers that filled the relatively small venue with ambience before kicking into full gear with that wall-shaking riff. However it was clear that the band were not entirely happy with the sound, due to some feedback issues and a mix that buried the clarity and details of the voices of Amber Webber and Stephen McBean.

To their credit, this did not hamper their performance at all, as they charged on through the energetic slice of retro rock that is Florian Saucer Attack, confirming what Mothers Of The Sun had already shown us: Webber’s vocals live are one of the group’s greatest assets, soaring note-perfect with both power and beauty, when singing solo and when harmonising with McBean.

The band came on the back of their recent album IV, an ambitious work packed with larger-than-life tracks full of drama and atmosphere. While on the album they occasionally felt flat and unconvincing, live these songs truly came to life and made sense, immersing the audience in a blanket of rich textures.

Much of this textural work came from the keys and buttons of keyboardist Jeremy Schmidt, resembling a scientist hard at work over his masses of controls, unleashing vintage psychedelic washes and retro buzzing lines.

You Can Dream is one such song that made for a relatively unconvincing album track but an engaging live experience. Its unashamed grandiosity is easier to stomach when recreated before your eyes and delivered at top volume, with all the chemistry between band members that a good live show offers.

Stormy High and Tyrants, from 2008’s album In The Future, brought the classic rock riffing that earned Black Mountain so many initial fans, backed by the fluid yet solid rhythm section of drummer Josh Wells and bassist Colin Cowan. Colin’s physical enthusiasm drew even more eyes to him than his prominent bass playing, so central to each song, already did.

Despite radiating enough atmosphere and ambience to reach the furthest walls of a much larger venue, the Tuning Fork worked brilliantly for the band, give or take a few minor sound issues. It allowed the audience a personal immersion into the washes of sound spewing from the small stage.

Waiting to top it all off was the main set closer Space to Bakersfield, a drawn-out psychedelic jam, crowned with a lengthy classic rock solo by McBean. In conjunction with the hypnotic layers of groove supplied by the rest of the band, the solo effectively did away with my sense of time.

While the 12-song set-list seems short looking back on it, at the time it was perfectly satisfying (even if they didn’t play Defector, a highlight of their latest album). While interaction with the audience was minimal, no-one was complaining, as the music delivered enough.

Black Mountain have made some great records in their decade-long career, but I now know that it is within the context of a live concert that their music really comes to life and shows what they are capable of, imparting a much stronger effect. I recommend catching them wherever you can.

 

Setlist:

Mothers Of The Sun
Florian Saucer Attack
Stormy High
Cemetery Breeding
Tyrants
You Can Dream
Line Them All Up
Rollercoaster
Wilderness Heart
Wucan
Space To Bakersfield

Encore:

Druganaut

Read Ruben’s review of IV here.

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