Black Mountain at Do Division


We haven’t heard much lately from Black Mountain. The great rock band from Vancouver, British Columbia, released three albums between 2005 and 2010, but it hasn’t had an album in five years. Later this month, the Jagjaguwar label is releasing a deluxe version of Black Mountain’s self-titled debut (adding four songs from the Druganaut EP and four previously unreleased tracks, making for a double LP).

This 10th anniversary release was as good a reason as any for Black Mountain to hit the road again, stopping in Chicago this past weekend. I saw the band’s show on Friday, May 29, at the Do Division Street Fest — a set full of Black Mountain’s best and most epic songs, including key tracks from that terrific first album; Black Mountain also played a sold-out concert on Saturday at the Empty Bottle. The loopy tune “No Hits” sounded as whacked-out as ever, its title providing an ironic theme for the band, but the most riveting moments were when guitarist Stephen McBean and his bandmates locked into a riff and played it with thunderous power. McBean swapped vocals with Amber Webber, who stood there nonchalantly, dispensing with any pretense at rock-star showmanship — until she opened her mouth and sang with an eerie grace.

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Black Mountain at Lincoln Hall

Vancouver rockers Black Mountain have a new album on the way — Wilderness Heart comes out Sept. 14 in North America — and the band gave Chicago a preview of the new tunes Thursday (July 1) at Lincoln Hall.

Judging from the new songs Black Mountain played (about half of the set), Wilderness Heart is going to be a fine follow-up to the band’s excellent earlier records, the self-titled debut from 2005 and In the Future from 2008. Continuing in the vein of those recordings, Black Mountain is making epic riffs, drawing on the hard rock, art rock and psychedelic music of the early ’70s.

Some of the band’s songs are quite long, to the point where it seems natural to call them “jams.” But Black Mountain doesn’t fill up all that time with endless solos or improvisation. Sometimes, guitarist/front man Stephen McBean and his band mates simply revel in the joy of playing a great melodic hook over and over. Other times, the songs are more like carefully constructed suites, each part leading into another part that seems like the only logical place the music could go.

McBean’s face remained hidden much of the time, buried under his long hair, as he played guitar or sang. The other thing that makes Black Mountain’s music so appealing is the combination of McBean’s vocals with those of Amber Webber. The new songs sounded strong, but of course, it was even more exciting to hear the ones we’re already familiar with, including “Don’t Run Our Hearts Around” and “Druganaut” from the first album, and “Evil Ways” from In the Future.

Watch a video of the new Black Mountain song “Old Fangs.” Or download a free mp3 of the song here.

The evening started off with an opening set by David Vandervelde, who had at least one different musician in his band compared with the recent show he did at the Empty Bottle. (Or were both different? I’m not sure.) Vandervelde’s Crazy Horse-style guitar soloing on a couple of songs sounded great. The highlights were the last two songs of his set, both drawn from his debut CD, “Murder in Michigan” and “Never No.”

See my photos of Black Mountain and David Vandervelde at Lincoln Hall.

Black Mountain at Schubas

SEPT. 21, 2005
Schubas, Chicago

Vancouver rocks! This turned out to be a great triple bill, with three bands hailing from the Pacific Canadian city. I missed the first few songs by Ladyhawk, but was quickly impressed by the guys. Full-out guitar rock that reminded me a little of My Morning Jacket or Kings of Leon. I was disappointed that Ladyhawk did not have any CDs for sale at the merch table, but glad to hear they’ve recorded a debut album, which will come out in spring 2006 on Jagjaguwar. There’s one to watch for.

Blood Meridian was up next. Not quite as exciting as Ladyhawk, but still good, with a slightly whiny or mopey folk-rock quality that reminded me a little of bands such as Phosphorescent or Okkervil River. The bassist for Black Mountain is the singer and guitarist for Blood Meridian, and the bands also share the same drummer. I picked up the 2004 Blood Meridian CD “we almost made it home,” and after one listen, I can say it’s pretty good, showing a lot of promise.

Black Mountain was great. I’m a bit of a latecomer to the self-titled album Black Mountain put out earlier this year. I just bought it a couple of months ago, but it has rapidly shot to the top of my list of favorite 2005 albums. The grooves are great, and Black Mountain has an excellent sense of the weight that each musical moment carries. In concert, the band replicates its studio recordings very well, adding a few fillips here and there, jamming a bit at times, without indulging too much in long solos. I love the tension between the male and female vocals, between the guitar and keyboard sounds.