With Saturday's live-streamed performance at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall, BLACK COUNTRY, NEW ROAD make light work of proving why they're the band that everyone is talking about. Maxwell Tait unpacks their stunning set, and explains why you're right to be excited about them.
As vulgar a term as it may be, Black Country, New Road are the most hyped band around right now. And rarely has a band been more deserving of such frenzied attention. It feels exciting just seeing such an inventive band at the centre of things, and, with Saturday’s live streamed performance from the Queen Elizabeth Hall, it is thrilling to see them given an opportunity to broadcast where they are currently, via their take on the still novel medium of ‘ghost gig’.
None of the ensemble’s energy is lost to the almost-empty Southbank hall. LP opener ‘Instrumental’ prowls like a sinister conga-line — May Kershaw’s serrated keys truly locked in for the duration, Charlie Wayne on a rolling boil at the kit, like a teppanyaki chef on a Saturday night. ‘Athens, France’ is queasy, driving rock, with the upside-down twang of The Rebel. Lead singer Isaac Wood is beguiling, looking increasingly like Eli Sunday from There Will Be Blood, and with the knowing look to boot.
You could compare Tyler Hyde’s ‘Science Fair’ bassline to Young Marble Giants, but there’s such an individuality to its minimal wobble — so staccato that it’s practically 8 bit. Georgia Ellery’s violin and Lewis Evans’ sax double-up on a repeating motif with an Ornette Coleman melancholy, that floats through occasionally, like when you drive under a streetlight at night and the light slides straight through you and your vehicle. And we’re treated to some exceptionally crunchy riffs — Luke Mark is given the freedom to righteously shred.
I might be wrong, but recent single ’Track X’ seems to perform the ultimate flex of sampling your own song — a swirling, pretty, reinterpretation of the opening of ‘Sunglasses’. Ellery and Evans once again synchronise to give it a golden, ’Different Trains’ chug. The chorus is a lovely moment, as the ten strong socially-distanced audience reveal themselves to be part of the performance. Each armed with a microphone, they give the choruses that music-festival, singalong swell, conspicuously absent from 2020. LP closer 'Opus' is electric — you can see it being used in a lab experiment, where an unwitting subject is told they'll be given a reward if they manage not to tap their foot for all 8 minutes of its rude convulsions.
Hit single ‘Sunglasses’ provides the evening’s curveball. A decision to withhold the deranged, fifth-can strut of its second act seems appropriate, the song instead fizzling into a still, breezy reworking of its now infamous finale. Black Country, New Road have experienced a meteoric rise since their inception, and, like many young people in the last year, they haven’t been able to truly celebrate the fruit of their labor. Glowing online discourse is all well and good, but it’s like chucking a big stone in a lake only to see it digitally phase through the surface — hardly the satisfying ripple you crave. There’s a reason university students don’t want a Zoom graduation; it’s not because they’re difficult or ungrateful, it’s because they’d rather patiently wait for a real life blow-out opportunity to celebrate months and years of hard graft.
Weird as the circumstances may have been for the release of debut LP ‘For The First Time’, it will barely register as a bump in the timeline of Black Country, New Road. Though they sound momentous and assured, it is clear they are just getting started, as proven by two unreleased tunes that close the set. ‘Bread Song’ allows Isaac Wood to channel Scott Walker’s ‘Rosary’ performance on Jools Holland, before unfolding into the complete opposite of that claustrophobia, though unwilling to give away if it sounds like sunrise or sunset. And ‘Basketball Shoes’ has Luke Mark pull out excalibur itself — a double necked, 18 string, Ibanez imitation-SG that spearheads the absolutely massive finale.
A heartfelt tribute to Lewis Evans’ Uncle Mark opens the set, who tragically passed away last month. ‘Mark’s Theme’ is a beautiful way to celebrate his life. “I’d just picked up my new tenor sax from the workshop when I found out he’d passed away and it was the first thing I played on it. I wanted to write something to really remember him by. He was a massive fan of the band, but just playing the songs didn’t feel like enough. So I wanted to have my own little memory of him and everything he represented in my life.”
It’s a joy to watch such exceptionally talented musicians tessellating to create something even greater. And that joy is mirrored in Black Country, New Road, who are positively uplifting, and clearly having a lot of fun doing what they do. Their spectacular performance on Saturday proves that they have done the hard part of capturing the attention of the world. Now that the foundations are set, the exciting part is seeing what comes next.
Black Country, New Road's debut LP 'For The First Time' is out now on Ninja Tune. Tickets for upcoming live dates are available on their website.