Welcome to Hell, Black Country, New Road and Black Midi at The Wiltern
This was definitely a night of two emerging heavyweights, in Black Country, New Road and Black Midi. Both bands have similarly exploded into the scene and have been at the forefront of the Post-Brexit New Wave movement, representing two sides of that same coin. Each has a unique and dynamic sound that’s amassed a cult-like following and together they packed in every square inch of The Wiltern. With this being the first time BCNR have played LA after a last minute cancellation of their US tour earlier this year due to the departure of Isaac Wood from the band, this felt like it was a must see show just to see them make their LA debut. Add into the mix that Black Midi would be headlining this leg of the tour after their release of the latest album, Hellfire and you just knew this would be a gig for the ages.
Getting to the gig, you could see the excitement and restlessness of everyone that showed up, with people lining the street, anxious to get in so they didn’t miss opener BCNR. Seeing people run in the theater as soon as they stepped in was indicative of how sought after this performance was. Walking in, there was hardly anywhere left to stand with everyone entranced from the first note. With their baroque sound, BCNR felt just right at the Wiltern, with the scenery and acoustics working beautifully for them.With a setlist full of new unreleased tracks that they have been testing out, the band was able to craft an intimate space and relationship with the audience. These songs felt incredibly strong and felt like a huge throwback to early Arcade Fire with the amount of crescendos in songs that turn into an explosion of sound. Their opener “Up Song” is the perfect illustration of this, as each instrument builds up to the refrain where the lyrics “Look at what we did together, BCNR friends forever” reverberate into the perfect climax.
As the night progressed, the band exemplified some of its lovable quirks, as de-facto frontman Lewis Evans shouted “Let’s Go Dodgers” at one point, personally making me a fan forever. But it was when the band all sat down together to watch on as keyboard player and vocalist May Kershaw had a little soliloquy moment, performing the opening portion to “Turbines/Pigs” that you could see the lovableness and the camaraderie of the group. This song proved to be one of the highlights with a charming intro with the keys and vocals juxtaposed with a flurry of an outro. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought these were not just two different songs but different artists. It is this seamlessness to blend genres and sounds that makes BC,NR one of the most promising groups to track the trajectory of. Although their set was about 45 minutes long, it easily felt like a lot longer and we could have stayed all night listening to them crank out more into this already beautifully crafted set.
As BC,NR had gone off the stage delivering one of the more memorable acts I’d seen this year, it was now on Black Midi to take us straight to hell. As the lights dimmed, the speakers played the voice of a boxing announcer to introduce the band as the ten thousand tons of pure steel and being the current reigning undefeated super colossal champions of the world, black “hellfire” midi. In the true theatrical fighting spirit the band came out to The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” before opening up with the aggressive and chaotic “Welcome to Hell”. This got the crowd bouncing immediately as you could see the chaos on the dance floor and making its way throughout the venue. The sheer sound that they emanated felt like it was coursing through your veins, with the bass sounding strong enough to make your bones rattle. Leaving a distinct impression, the keyboards went from a pleasant walk in the park to an eerie almost ominous clash with the music. Even at times, vocalist Geordie Greep’s singing went into an almost intense rambling that gives each song another layer of chaos.
Mixing in a bit of their wit and quirks, at points the band took some time to banter and deliberately had moments where they said “Thank you New York, it’s so nice to be in San Francisco today”. Their goofy and playful nature was quickly polarized with the craziness of “Sugar/Tzu” and “Magicians” which might have been the most impressive track of the night in seeing the pure talent of drummer Morgan Simpson. With the former song containing the drums in a flurry in what can be described in an insane jazzy mashup, whereas the latter provides the freedom for the drums to take control of the song and get a grip on the crowd. Closing the night, they gave a raw and powerful rendition of “Low” that had the vocals in both band and crowd yell the lyrics at each other. Not even the tiered levels of the Wiltern could stop pits from forming with the rowdiness developing on the other platforms. As the crowds began to exit and make their way up, you could see the look of astonishment and accomplishment in their eyes. They had been taken to hell by black midi and survived to tell the tale.
Waiting in the merch line, processing what I just saw and after listening to everyone around me, I kept hearing the same sentiment with everyone having nothing but praise for each band. We are at the forefront of one of the hottest musical movements of the decade. This might be the definitive sound, as its traction is taking over ever music talking circle. Whether you define it as broadly as post-punk revival or get into specifics and get granular, defining this movement as Post Brexit New Wave, no one is denying the buzz that they are generating. This was truly a monumental showcase of the movement providing two heavyweights who are continuing to grow and attract a wider set of eyes. Between Black Country, New Road writing new material featured tonight to Black Midi releasing Hellfire and teasing new unreleased tracks in their set, it’s going to be an exciting decade keeping up with the two.
Words by: Alfredo Luna
Photos by: Donna Borges