I walked into Music Hall of Williamsburg to music already playing, and I knew from the heavy-reverbed note bending that sounded like a portal straight back to Texas psych rock from the '60s, that Night Beats was on stage. Singer D. Lee Blackwell split his time between growling and yelping into the mic Suicide style, along with rocking out on guitar. He thrashed those strings, sliding rapidly up and down the neck and detuning then tuning again the bend the noise further. Drummer James Traeger did his own thrashing, and brandishing of his drumstick twirling talents between songs, and bassist Tarek Wegner walking up and down on the beat. He is mostly where the R&B part of their sound description comes from, and all three put the psych and soul into Night Beats. All their songs were lo-fi enough to sound raw and messy, but amplified enough to reverberate through the bone and temporarily transport the mind to where the wild-eyed psych freaks roam.
D. Lee Blackwell
The Horrors were the headliners, and their live set really surprised me. Having only seen them in photos, I was expecting a band of skinny boys in tight jeans, ghoulish makeup, and big hair. However, they’ve greatly toned down the gothic Nightmare Before Christmas look, and while they all have that distinctive he-must-be-in-a-band look, they are definitely more focused on crafting quality songs and putting on a good rock show.
They played mostly in darkness, with stark blue or red spotlights silhouetting their profiles. They started out subtle and gradually increased their energy, until the last song was basically a storm of orchestrated amplified noise. Judging from the cinematic qualities of their latest full length, Skying, I expected the live show to be more like watching a film in that respect. Nope – they are a rock band. You can add any other qualifiers you like to describe their sound; be it shoegaze, post-punk, experimental, what have you. They all used the space they had on stage as much as they could, whether it was singer Faris Badwan leaning over the front monitors and swinging the mic around, bassist Rhys Webb rocking and twirling, or guitarist Joshua Hayward leaning out over the edge of the stage before retreating back to really wild out and break new sonic barriers. Every time drummer Joe Spurgeon came in on a song, it sounded so grand and crystal clear – especially on the intro to “Still Life.” They managed to combine the best elements of all of the aforementioned genres past, and stay consistently attention holding all the way through to the last song – which was nothing short of a sonic journey. Badwan lifted the mic stand upside down to point the mic directly at Hayward’s amp, creating another layer to their already massively texturized aural creation. At this point, everything was mostly a blur, and it couldn’t have been more fitting.
Night Beats are continuing to make the rounds down the eastern seaboard then west, hitting up Austin Psych Fest along the way. All dates can be found on their Facebook. The Horrors will be playing both weekends of Coachella, and then heading back crossing seas for a slew of dates in other parts of the world. View all dates here.
Photos (c) Kelly Knapp