Black Country, New Road at YES, Manchester: Live Review (22/01/20)

A real buzz is forming around Black Country, New Road. A wide range of people attend the shows. Waves of conversation fill the crowd. ‘But where is the album?’ , ‘Black Country are better than Black Midi’, ‘I heard them on Radio 6 and thought why not?’. This crowd have already named untitled songs and recorded bootlegs of their previous shows (Their basement show in Yes can be found in its entirety on YouTube). Very cult. Between songs crowd members shout ‘PLAY WET SHEETS’ , ‘KENDALL JENNER!’ as if the band know which untitled songs they are referring to. This getting to the point where other fans share banter with requests for Ed Sheeran songs, maybe hoping to continue the recent Black Midi diss track trend. 

Supporting Black Country, New Road is Deathcrash. A four piece, post rock group from London.  A collection of songs are performed. These all having whispered vocals against an atmospheric wash of guitars. The drummer plays a few songs on brushes, a DIY tape tape job is done by the guitarist, the bass player plays on five strings. There should be a lot to like, but there is something missing. Each track follows the same formula to a predictable level. Each sounding a bit like an unfinished Slint demo. The crowd cock their ears trying to hear the lyrics but fail. This being a huge shame as I have a feeling the lyrical content could be this bands strength. Maybe the engineer should have done sound check with everyone doing ASMR.

Black Country New Road on the other hand are as interesting as ever. They choose to play two shows at the same venue on the same night. Both being almost parallel, except the second being a looser affair. A shame when the band have so much material under their belt that they have stopped playing. A cut about social media algorithms and another on TV broadcast shows were cut from the setlist completely. Having done these in show 2 would have made this more gratifying. Though this was made up for in the sheer talent of the group. Some fantastic no wave, free jazz jams were formed. I couldn’t hope more for some of them to appear on the album. Especially one in which Evans and Ellery somehow make a violin and sax sound like a peculiar animal howling (in a good way if that makes sense). The shape of jazz to come but its 2020 not 1959. The group also deliver one new song which is a nice edition.

The non conformity comes out everywhere. The band at times experiment with different pedals or notes. Sometimes bursting into fits of laughter between each other. The band continue their unusual sound that I can only try and compare to King Crimson before it is changed to The Robocobra Quartet. The chameleons are in town. I state this movement as blurring the lines of modern rock. 

The group break into an outstanding instrumental track to open. One I previously mentioned as a vaudeville masterpiece. This outing only solidifies that status more. Kershaw’s keys bounce up and down in a build up alongside Hyde’s unmistakeable bassline. Wayne steals the show with his hypnotic drums which have this tribal rhythm that is applaud worthy. A sound that so few drummers go for these days. The members drop their build ups and turn into a mad breakdown that is a voyage in itself. The variety in style for this group is more than one dimensional and shown here for instance.

With no interruptions (besides a feedback drone) they move into ‘Athens, France’. Wayne takes a dramatic head dive onto his kit between the transitioning phase in the track. Ellery adds some extra, beautiful articulation here. It is nice to see these tracks being built upon each time seeing them live. Whether it was a mistake or deliberate, a downward pitch shift towards the final section was incredibly pleasing to the ear. They build new pieces on another untitled track (named by fans ‘Late To The Party’) in which Mark and Wood play guitar tones now transposed a metere apart. They compliment each other brilliantly and remind me of the way Television played. 

Wood is shadowed away on the left side of the stage, only coming up front for his vocals. He tells angular, fictional stories to the audience. In one he talks about an encounter he has with a woman at the Cambridge science fair. He asks ‘have you seen Black Midi?, what are your sexual preferences?’. It is so weird, but wonderful at that. The track is like a world where dating sites are removed from modern society. Instead we act like we would online in real life. Theatrically Wood takes off his jumper after he talks of a woman slowly undressing. The band build from a sparse bass and vocal driven ramble to a wash of guitars. It is a set highlight to be deafened by the textures of this piece. They are built upon by the rest of the band who add their own articulations atop. To add to the bizarreness Ellery has a collection of receipts in her violin case which she fumbles through maniacally while looking for her vape pen. 

On two performances of ‘Sunglasses’ the crowd go absolutely insane. In the second some dangerous looking crowd surfing and extreme mosh pits were formed. The band make the first performance look like a warm up in comparison, as this second one was nosier and more unapologetic. Each time the song gets more of a riot reaction and this time the band played along. The unhinged middle section became somehow more unhinged. The audience chant the guitar riffs back to the band. Football fan style. Evans looks baffled by the end and passes his water bottle communally through the sweating crowd. 

On the penultimate track the group play an ambitious 14 minute track, in which Wood delivers monologues concerning Charli XCX. The track is at times a little reminiscent to Slints ‘Good Morning Captain’, but before you know it it has changed completely. Full of diversions, this is an epic finale. It opens with Ellery and Evans shining as they play quiet, classically trained articulations on their instruments. Side note: maybe not so epic. Evans lost his in ear monitors and had a panic. He spent the last section of the show on the floor looking for them while audience members put their flash lights on the dimly lit stage. Word of mouth is lifting this group on a wave that will only rise if their shows continue being this explosive. Phonomenal.