The Black Angels deliver hazy rock, rain to 29th Studio-A-Rama

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Rachel Hunt

The Black Angels performed a number of songs from Phosphene Dream, released earlier this week.

Jacob Martin, Contributing Reporter

Last weekend, a variety of raucous noises emitted from the Mather Memorial courtyard, from metal around 11 a.m. used for testing speakers to the droning psychedelia that swept through the area around midnight.

On Saturday, September 11, 91.1-FM WRUW hosted its 29th annual Studio-A-Rama music festival at the Mather Memorial Courtyard on the CWRU campus. The free festival showcased many local acts and featured a headliner well known among the independent music community.

This year’s headliners were The Black Angels, a psychedelic rock group hailing from Austin, Texas. Stopping in Cleveland during their tour after playing in Pittsburgh on September 10, and a performing on the Late Show with David Letterman on Sept. 8, Studio-A-Rama would be their last stop before they embarked on a European tour.

WRUW community programmers Neal Filsinger and Steven Barrett organized the event, which went for just over twelve hours, and despite inclement weather, all nine musical acts saw the stage.

According to reports from programmers, it hadn’t rained at a Studio-A-Rama in at least ten years. That streak ended this year, however, when rain halted the performances for about two hours. Yet this hiatus didn’t keep loyal fans away, as many people waited it out under tents, in the Mather Memorial building, and some even in the rain.

When asked about the weather around 8 p.m. and whether or not the bands would go on, Filsinger stated, “We’re going to get every band on; we’re just shortening their sets.” Nonetheless when playing resumed at 8:50 p.m., about two hours after the rain began, the remaining bands played for a dedicated and large crowd.

This year, seven of the eight opening bands hailed from Cleveland, with one stopping in for the evening from Detroit. In order to play Studio-A-Rama, bands sent in submissions and a panel of roughly ten WRUW staff members critiqued and picked the top acts. With over sixty submissions for nine spots, the best of the best were showcased.

Sloth, consisting of two people, opened the festival at 1 p.m. dressed in homemade costumes that had to be seen to be believed. Their drummer was not in attendance, so they played a medley that lasted only fifteen minutes and was based around a recorded Casio keyboard drum beat. CWRU student/WRWU staff member Nate Kelly described the performance as, “Nursery rhymes for the Manson family children.” The performance art madness was rounded off when they threw granola bars into the audience and passed out lyric sheets with earplugs attached.

The Ethiopians took the stage next, featuring a lighter garage sound that the audience enjoyed. The duo was happy to play for WRUW; vocalist/guitarist Marty Brass, who also performed at Studio-A-Rama last year with Neon Tongues commented, “It’s always fun playing with a bunch of Cleveland buds.”

Following was Teenage Grandpa, another Cleveland native band, and the only act to feature a CWRU student, drummer Setari Parsa. This trio held a strong presence, yet toned it back effectively at times. The range of Andrew Jurcak’s electrifying vocals and powerful lyrics set the band apart from the other acts. This is a band to watch out for, and as guitarist Frank Wallis foretold, “Stuff’s coming.”

Self-described as “garbage,” next act Prisoners’ loud playing, captivating lyrics, and dominating guitars blended phenomenally together, providing the audience with one of the most impressive sets of the event.

Cleveland veterans Nick Riff’s Freak Element went on at about 5 p.m., as a foreboding drizzle began. A native to the Cleveland music scene since the 80s and 90s, Riff, donning long blonde hair a vintage Fender, gave his all and did not disappoint.

Self Destruct Button was next. True to their name, they came out swinging, destructive and noisy with complex and intense math rock songs. Although the rain started to pour down during their set, they continued playing, with a particularly virtuosic performance from their drummer.

Although slated for 7 p.m., Fawn didn’t go on until ten minutes to 9 p.m. due to the rain delay. Also without a drummer, the band went on with Afternoon Naps’ drummer Craig Ramsey and still played a tasteful set. Their sweet harmonies, laced with heavy-hearted lyrics “based on love and lust,” according to songwriter Christian Doble, captured the audience visibly as fans energetically danced. True to their word they were brief, yet catchy and heartfelt.

Afternoon Naps, a highly anticipated act of the night and local favorite, played a melodious indie pop set that included a considerable amount of xylophone, synthesizer, and jangly guitar. Loyal to their pop roots, their lyrics were to the point and flirtatious, and the attendees responded enthusiastically.

The potent noise rock that came from Sun God rounded out the opening acts, and did an excellent job in keeping the crowd’s energy level high in anticipation for The Black Angels. The band had a loud grunge sound and kept it heavy, with an emphasis on buzzsaw guitar and strong drums which abrasively set up for the headliner.

At the time of their performance, The Black Angels were on the verge of the release of their third LP, Phosphene Dream, which hit shelves last Tuesday. Singer Alex Maas said, “We’re going to play a lot off the new album. We created it with a kind of sixth mind, balancing ideas with our producer like George Martin and The Beatles.”

Guitarist Christian Bland agreed with Haas on Phosphene Dream saying, “We’re very pleased with it. We accomplished what we wanted.”

The Black Angels clearly respect The Velvet Underground, given that their name is derived from one of their songs, although as Haas noted, “We don’t idolize any one person or how the [Velvet Underground] acted, we just idolize what they did musically.”

That idolization was evident when they took the stage in the Mather Memorial Courtyard. They began with some reverb-heavy familiar songs like “Black Grease,” “The First Vietnamese War,” and “Young Men Dead.” Cuts from Phosphene Dream were testaments to The Black Angels’ ability to mesmerize attendees with hard lines and wraithlike sounds, even if the audience was unfamiliar with them. The chords of Velvet Underground-esque rock of “Yellow Elevator #2,” and the surf rock form of the Letterman-showcased “Telephone” left the large crowd demanding more.

Their encore was long and unrushed; the band played new track “Sniper” and an extended jam version of crowd favorite “Empire.” The crowd called out for a second encore, a drawn-out jam of an obscure B-side that was met with enthusiastic reception.

When asked what the crowd should expect from the band shortly before going on, Bland stated, “We want to freak people out. Shake things up.” The psychedelic and trancelike performance that ensued did just that.