Black Mountain Returns From the Future

And Sage pays a visit from the past.

It must be a great feeling for an artist when they land themselves a sizable, devoted following after just one record. Wire did pretty well for themselves with Pink Flag, as did Arcade Fire and Black Sabbath with their debuts. Of course, the only problem with a stunning first outing is the legitimate cliché of the sophomore slump, and it's all too easy for an initial appetite for destruction to be reduced to a pair of dueling illusions. What most often goes wrong is one of two missteps: not enough originality to trump the breakout appeal of the first effort (see the Strokes) or an overly-ambitious sprawl that sounds like someone greedily biting off more than they can chew or eroding their original worth by overthinking it all (G'n'R, the Stone Roses). In the case of Vancouver, B.C.'s majestic and dark classic rock interpreters Black Mountain, their second full-length release falls somewhere in between those negatives, but the happy answer to that twisted equation is generally positive. In the Future is an exhaustive, hour-long exploration of the potential that the band exhibited on their debut. While their canvassing of Middle Earth periodically meanders into muddy waters, their acid-soaked charms spill forth at just the right moments, thanks to the increased presence of bewitching vocalist Amber Webber (who moonlights in Lightning Dust). Group leader Steve McBean (also the brain behind Pink Mountaintops) is sharing the psychedelic spotlight with her now—a wise move that will undoubtedly be a highlight in their show this Thursday, January 31 at Neumo's. At that same venue the very next night, the crowd will undoubtedly contain many of the very same fans, given the nature of the bill. As veterans of lysergic levitation, headliners Sky Cries Mary have logical ties to Black Mountain's audience, but I'm predicting that there will be an equal (if not greater) number of BM fans seriously stoked to see openers Sage reuniting for (supposedly) just one night. Jointly fronted by Marc Olsen and Guy Davis, Sage made ornately embellished, bass-heavy psych rock with a unique streak of Middle Eastern flavor and was one of the most unfairly overlooked bands in Seattle's mid-'90s heyday. After putting out a couple of records on now-defunct local label Will Records, they split rather acrimoniously in 1997. Olsen enjoyed some success as a solo artist (earning himself some very justified comparisons to Neil Young and Elliott Smith) and made an appearance on Gerald Collier's first solo record. He also toured briefly as a guitarist in Mark Lanegan's band and dabbled in cinema, scoring the soundtrack to the indie flick Under Heaven in 1998. Thanks to the inspired efforts of Sky Cries Mary guitarist William Bernhard (the same man responsible for putting together the Gerald Collier reunion in 2007), Sage will open for SCM on Friday, February 1. Tickets were running very low at press time, so get 'em now if you haven't yet. The sands continue to shift out in clubland, with the latest shake-up being the departure of Tractor Tavern booking agent Andrew McKeag and the appointment of his replacement, High Dive booker Greg Garcia. McKeag, who has been doing double and triple duty as a guitarist for the increasingly busy Presidents of the United States of America and in his role as a father of two, has come to the realization that sometimes there really aren't enough hours in the day. "I just couldn't fathom how I was gonna keep all the balls in the air again," explains McKeag, referring to PUSA's upcoming CD release at the Paramount and their impending trans-Atlantic tour itinerary. "Basically I'm enjoying the shit out of being the working musician I always hoped to be at nearly 40 years old. I think it will be better for the club to have someone do the gig who can really 'be there'...and better for me to focus on the tasks at hand." For his part, Garcia plans on building on the work McKeag and Tractor owner Dan Cowan have done, with a slightly broader focus and an increased attention toward strong local bills. "Dan and I are both really excited to keep everything cool the Tractor is known for, but at the same time build on that. We will have some more rock shows for sure. Don't be surprised if you see bands like the Hands, the Blakes and maybe even the Saturday Knights. The same great stuff that you would expect at the Tractor is just gonna get better!" Finally, I want to extend my condolences to the friends and loved ones of Ben McMillan. The former Gruntruck and Skin Yard vocalist died from complications related to his diabetes. He was 46. Memorials are in the works; I'll post more information on Reverb as I receive it.

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