BLACK MOUNTAIN at Lee’s Palace (529 Bloor West), Wednesday (March 5), 9 pm. $17.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Making their network television debut last week on Late Night With Conan O’Brien was just the latest in a string of impressive accomplishments for Vancouver heavy rock crew Black Mountain, who remain happily self-managed.
That’s right, no backroom dealing by high-powered industry players was involved in getting Black Mountain on the Coldplay tour. And just like the invitation to perform at the Portishead-curated All Tomorrow’s Parties festival and the inclusion of one of their songs on the Spider-Man 3 soundtrack, the Conan O’Brien gig was offered solely because of the quality of their music. It’s a remarkable feat for an independent band with negligible commercial radio play.
Somehow, Black Mountain’s epic riff-ripping, which can be heard on their great new In The Future (Scratch) disc, not only appeals to studded-gauntlet-wearing metalheads and hairy progressive rock nerds but also to people who hate metal and believe prog is a four-letter word.
However they stumbled onto the magic mixture, they’re now on a path to artistically credible mainstream success parallel to the ones cut by Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd.
“I guess doing the Conan thing was all right,” sighs Black Mountain main man Stephen McBean, doing his best to shrug off the career milestone, “but there was a lot of sitting around involved. Conan had some heavyweight boxer as a guest that night, so they had the ‘let’s get ready to rumble’ guy [Michael Buffer] introduce us, which was kinda cool.”
It must be a kick to have celebrities asking to have their names added to the guest list and Chris Robinson and Rick Rubin flashing devil horns at the front of the stage during shows. You know you’ve arrived when Wayne Coyne from the Flaming Lips invites you back to his place to listen to rec-ords.
“Yeah, I guess it was kinda cool to hang out with Wayne Coyne. And then we were playing this show with Witch, and J Mascis came up to me afterwards and said, ‘That’s an amazing guitar tone you’ve got there.’
“The other night, Noel and Liam [Gallagher] from Oasis came backstage to say hello after our show at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. They’re pretty nice guys actually, and very funny, too.”
No doubt part of the reason so many people in their 30s and 40s are getting into Black Mountain is because they’ve hit on a sound or vibe that reminds people of the late 60s and early 70s bands they loved as kids.
That extends beyond Black Mountain’s gnarly guitar sound and pounding grooves to the group’s album art. The post-apocalyptic cube monument design that keyboardist Jeremy Schmidt came up with for their In The Future sleeve looks like some surreal Hipgnosis creation for a mid-70s Toe Fat or Quartermass LP.
“I know Jeremy was inspired by all of those classic Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin LP covers. That’s the sort of stuff he loves, and so do I."
“Once we had enough songs written, we tried to work out some kind of concept for the album, and the whole idea of a double LP with a gatefold sleeve was very appealing. I remember what a big deal it was as a kid to get a double album and spend hours looking at the images on the fold-out cover. That whole experience seems to be lost these days with all the digital downloading and iPods, but for some reason, we’ve sold more vinyl on this tour than ever before.”
Stephen McBean explains why the forthcoming album by his Pink Mountaintops side project will sound significantly different from prior recordings.
If you've seen Spiderman II eight times and still can't figure out where the Black Mountain song Stay Free appears in the film, there's good reason.
Faux metal racket
For every real heavy hitter like Black Mountain, there are two or three “hipster metal” acts on the scene. Just don’t ask them if they’re wailing for ironic kicks.
Goblin Cock Assembled by Rob Crow of Pinback, GC are more obviously a gag than the others but certainly good for a few yuks.
The Sword Album sleeves that look like van murals should be a tipoff.
Bandway Largely overlooked innovators in the faux metal field. Bandway’s Night Rock disc from 2002 is a stoopid genius classic of the genre.
Witch J Mascis would likely tell you his band Witch are straight-up metal, but then again, so would everyone else on this list.
Melvins The ultimate hipster metal band who make all other joke bands look like, er... , jokes.