Black Mountain, Mass Datura at Stereo, 15/11/16

Wreathed in smoke and deep in the bowels of Glasgow’s Stereo, Canadian psychedelic rockers Black Mountain take to the stage.

Singer/guitarist Stephen McBean grabs the microphone and croaks into it.

 

“You crazy stoner bastard” laughs an audience member.

McBean cranks his guitar and it gets loud.

Before we get to that point in the evening however there’s a short support set from Mass Datura, an otherwise unremarkable group save for their stunningly talented lap steel player who makes his instrument crackle and sings.

The rest of the act sits somewhere between Syd Barrett and Of Montreal with curious childlike vocal lines and sudden changes in direction.

It’s not an unpleasant sound but it never quite goes in a coherent direction for long enough to really work out what the group are all about.

Returning to the headliner’s though and the Canadian five-piece are a much more dramatic proposition.

Centred round the guitar playing of McBean and the witchy presence of Amber Webber, they’ve made four records since the mid-2000s including this year’s Led Zeppelin inspired IV.

The quintet haven’t toured Europe all that extensively in recent years, but nonetheless Stereo is full and the audience clap and cheer enthusiastically even before the group take to the stage

Since McBean moved to Los Angeles from the group’s native Vancouver, their music has taken on a little more of a pop sheen, displaying the greater influence of the legendary psychedelic acts of the late sixties Bay scene, but live they’re as heavy as ever, conjuring an oppressive atmosphere as much with their impressively tight and heavy musicianship as with the trails of smoke that wreath the stage.

McBean’s playing is sinuous and deft, with a penchant for repetitive, winding riffs that shift and repeat up or down a couple of tones.

Straddling the fence between late sixties California and Black Sabbath proto-stoner rock, he and his comrades blast out music that has the chops of the Grateful Dead and the winding proggy structures of the likes of Hawkwind.

In particular, the synapse frazzling ‘Rollercoaster’ has a tremendous swagger, while ‘Tyrants’, the eight-minute fiercely anti-war stoner blues that stands as Black Mountain’s own ‘War Pigs,’ is monumental, switching between heavy riffs and space rock atmospherics.

McBean’s co-vocalist Amber Webber has the pipes of Janis Joplin, opening ‘Mothers of the Sun’ the witchy lead single from this year’s IV with a dramatic flourish.

Elsewhere in the set there’s room for the chant-along ‘Stormy High’ and a lengthy jam through ‘Don’t Run Our Hearts Around’ that culminates in a final head banging dash to the finish.

Leaving an audience cheering and shouting for more, Black Mountain departs the stage.

They’ve reached the summit and taken this Stereo crowd as high as they can go.

Words: Max Sefton

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