Black Midi, Jennifer Watsen, Ill Japonia: Live at Riverside, Newcastle (18/02/20)

Set upon cobbled stone, and overlooking the Tyne is the Riverside venue. Housing 900 people crammed against a barrier. Black Midi have made another feat, who up to this point have been playing small clubs (where the sets have been uncontrollably dangerous). Upon entering it is made aparent that they are not selling out. A rather unsettling piece by The Orchestre Philharmonique (‘Antienne De La Conversation Intérieure’) is playing. There is no doubt the band chose it. A guy next to me compares it to ‘a descent into hell’ and I am inclined to agree.

I find a pattern emerging whenever seeing Black Midi play. That being a befuddlement over the support acts. We are presented with two performers on this date. Jennifer Walten opens up. She is a DJ of sorts (I think). It is hard to tell when she remains mute and has nothing online. Walten presents some distorted 808s, with occasional remote male vocals and keys. She transitions these songs together, gasping into an autotune laced mic every so often. While her efforts can be appreciated, it sounds more like an out of breath jogger playing the same track 10 times than a performer.

Enter Japonia: He is fascinating to watch, but also not the most gratifying of musicians. He lets out a prolonged ‘Ahhhh’ before playing a trap beat on his Macbook. He delivers autotuned rap in half Japanese, half English. He makes hazardous stage leaps, tripping over a kitchen roll in front of a monitor speaker. This causing it to go sprawling across the stage. As he performs he slowly starts taking off more of his clothing. Now clad in half a shirt and rolled up trousers, Japonia claims that he doesn’t care if people ‘don’t understand my english’, and asks the audience to ‘dance with me at the merch stand’. It’s a little confusing to say the least, but nothing less is expected of Black Midi support acts.  

Ill Japonia supporting Black Midi

Between waiting for Black Midi, skeptical chatter fills the crowd. This spurring from a peculiar statement uploaded online a few weeks back. One that said the band will be performing with two new members to replace Matt Kelvin, who will be absent temporarilly (Kaidi Akinnibi on Sax and Seth Evans on Keys). Other crowd members talk about how Black Midi’s music has made them regret studying physics degrees. Instead wanting to pick up instruments and form a band.

As the band hit the stage, the audience are driven into the deep end with a new cut entitled ‘John L’ . An ambitious number filled with false endings and jagged riffs. Although teased in a number of jam sessions, it now appears more complete than ever. Akinnibi shadows Greep with some hard bop playing. Greep’s Acute, mythological images fly past a moshing crowd. These concerning ‘anteaters scratching themselves in the wings’ and someone taking ‘respites overwhelmed by their king’. Greep delivers these in a monotone voice that holds a malicious tone. It seems like the title is a reference to John Lennon from some guess work? It is rediculously intriguing.

Greep, (now a skinhead) holds his earplugs preciously in an open left palm. He displays them as if they are crown jewels. His only interraction with the crowd is a “yeah yeah yeah”. He puts the plugs back in his ears and the band continue their set. It is next level bizarre.

The band are innovators in reworking their old numbers. In performing ‘Speedway’, A major chord is now awkwardly, but geniusly placed in the chorus. Making the song more unsettling than it already was; On ‘Of Schlagenheim’ Akinnibi and Evans play wailing and sensual solos; Compared with ‘Crows Perch’, in which they play as polyrhythmically as the band themselves; Picton gives up bass to play Kelvin’s guitar part on ‘Ducter’. An interesting, and well thought out sonic choice. It goes over wonderfully. Especially when Evans plays Picton’s bass parts on synth. 

On another new cut, titled ‘Chondro’. Simpson builds up an incredible tom performance over a meticulous, and unusual bassline from Picton. Greep’s dissonant, almost funky strumming is layered on top while he stalks the stage. Greep transitions into a jazzy, 7th filled section of picked sereneness. For a short period it sounds like it could pass for a christmas carol. The whole track could in a way. That being if you compare christmas carols to songs written by Scott Walker. Akinnibi plays some nightmarish sax in its build up. By the end it’s an applaud worthy, punky noise jam that would fall apart if many other groups tried to play it. 

‘953’ brings some of the heaviest crowd interaction in the entire evening. Greep puts on a merch hat. The tag (still on it) is swirling in the air as he plays. He wrecks at his guitar. This might answer why he uses duct tape to hold his strap on. The man next to me, falls behind into a mosh pit, apologises and asks me to look after his girlfriend. Greep turns the hat backwards and plays a solo not found on the album. It’s almost akin to something found on any classic rock album. But in Black Midi fashion it is just a bit more acute. A few crowdsurfers take advantage of this moment.

Later, the band morph into a cover of The Police’s ‘Message In A Bottle’. Picton has a cheeky grin on his face before the rest of the band follow in. The band sound more like The Police than The Police at times. At others Greep forgets the lyrics and replaces them with strange noises, quite akin to those on the ‘Schlagenheim ‘album.

Another new cut causes eyebrow raises. This being due to how different it sounds from previous material. This one called ‘Nylon’, in which Greep sits down playing a solo ballad. The band come in full fledged after a while adding huge dynamics to the piece. Here I can’t help but be reminded of the arrangements on Jeff Buckleys ‘Grace’ album, especially ‘Mojo Pin’. Greep lifts a riff from a jam he played with Black Country, New Road at The Windmill. It is a perfect example of their scrapbooking technique. Upon leaving the venue I hear someone state it as ‘Black Midi’s best track man’.

Black Midi’s encore isn’t exactly conventional. They come on to Paul Williams’s ‘Fat Sam’s Grand Slam’ and dance around the stage like escaped zoo animals. Simpson waves his sweat drenched t shirt around, pouncing over monitor speakers; Greep is now in his coat and furry hat. He is waving his arms about like an excitable child who has had too many smarties; Picton takes long strides doing what looks like a hand jive; Akinnibi almost loses his sax to the crowd as he points it into the audience members’ faces; Then there’s Evans spinning round on his feet. Another spectacular show from a band who seemingly can’t do wrong.

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