LIVE(STREAM) REVIEW: BLACK MIDI, NEW ROAD AT THE WINDMILL, BRIXTON
2020 has been the year for the live stream. Albeit often missing the point. Metamorphosing the live experience from something personal, to overkill million dollar (or pound) budgets in huge empty venues, or if not, tacky bedroom setups. Not here though. The Windmill sticks to it’s guns and goes in the middle. DIY but neat. Hiring two local venue goers and film-makers to record Black Midi, and Black Country, New Road raw, complete with old gig posters tacked to the wall with masking tape. Only some of the group are on stage, while the rest are littered about the venue with their amps and instruments lining the audience space.
The stream came about with The Windmill put in risk from a covid closure (top 30 most at risk venues in the country), and now this thankfully seems to have reduced the risk. Around this time last year, I witnessed the first exclusive gig performed by these two groups to 150 people crammed together in the same venue, and it was really quite something. This year, we’ve moved online and 6x more than last years capacity has turned up. The live chat is a plunge pool of people. Some declaring they’re cooking stir fry while watching, others ordering Domino’s Pizza, others asking where the hell The Windmill is located (as they’re from the states, but hear of it’s fame constantly). ‘The Windmill is more important to me to visit than the Eiffel Tower’ one says. Another replies: ‘God yes, far more important than the Eiffel Tower’. Virtual conversations over masses of distance really prove where technology has came to. A virtual Merch Stand is here. A raging success too. Exclusive Scarves, T-Shirts and Roofdog Tote Bags are all selling out by the second (even 10 minutes before the stream starts).
So what do the bands have to offer? In programme with their previous collaboration, the two groups opened with a transcending 48 minute splash of inventive jamming, driving everyone into envious chatroom discussions about how they wish they were there in person. One telling the world he wished he was tripping on acid in the midst of the performance. One is reminded of just how fantastic the acoustics are in this room. The sound is A+. The two groups scrapbook cuttings of Christmas songs, originals and jams into one colourful, mesmerising milestone. This time more ambitious than the last, merging genres, seamlessly proving their sheer variegation as musicians. There’s a progged out, mainly instrumental rendition of ‘Little Drummer Boy’ (despite some ‘rum pum pum pum’ backing vocals here and there). The playing from the band has strokes of post rock, turning the track entirely on it’s flipside. Ellery’s lengthened out, earthy violin playing is akin to something from a band like Dirty Three or even Rough Trade newcomers caroline; There’s an updated version of Black Country, New Road’s ‘Snowglobes’ too in the midst of all this jamming. Different to hearing it played in stuffy clubs last year, and nice in seeing it’s return (following it’s absence from BCNR’s debut album tracklist announcement). The new lyrics are yet more fitting to this year’s criris. Wood mourns: ‘This Christmas, the only gift I want is all my friends. I love my friends’. Greep is playing a steel guitar and it does the track wonders, heightening it to a set highlight. It beautifully blends with Ellery and Evans’s Sax and Fiddle combo.
This fizzles into material that is way too good to throw away. It’s as if Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band and Battles were locked away in a room for a month to record a funk record. The grooves are sharp, and the transitions continue to be flawless, while maintaining the jagged punk edge both groups have. There’s one section where they move away again and are virtually painting images with their instruments. Each member hops about over the pentatonic scale and lots of middle eastern imagery is occurring. I’m picturing T.E. Lawrence of Arabia travelling across the desert. You know what Miles Davis did on Sketches Of Spain? This is the kind of thing i’m talking about. Maybe more ‘Elogy of Egypt’ in this case, but close enough. A commenter on the chat asks ‘Is this snake charming music?’ That explains it better than I can.
Following this, a 5 minute break takes place. The spectators write ‘CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP’ continually on the chat to make up for the quiet atmosphere between tracks, knowing the band members are loitering on the group. Some more conspicuous than others. Cameron’s continuing on his DJ Dairy pseudonym for instance. It’s all quite homely.
Returning, the bands are donned in TBE (The Best Ever) snapbacks and sunglasses and are doing a pretty fantastic cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born To Run’. It is in true form to the original and not a speck off tune. Later the bands drop the wheels off. They do a rendition of ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’, complete with dramatic monologues that sound more like a threat than a welcoming message to children. The wryness continues with an arbitrary, non Christmas themed set of covers. During a version of Cee Lo Green’s ‘Fuck You’, Ellery selectively curses or doesn’t curse. There’s a count in the chat on every curse Ellery gives with multiple theories as to why she isn’t always cursing. Meanwhile, Wood is delivering some hilariously funny backing vocals. They are so high that they could bring Minnie Ripperton to resignation if this was during her peak.
The lyric sheets come out for the Elton John and Coldplay songs. The latter being completely unexpected. Especially when Greep adds some hard rock guitar licks and solos into the mix. A few lyrics are forgotten, probably quite deliberately (after all Black Midi did play a noise jam at the warehouse project for 40 minutes). Punk isn’t dead. The set ends with an intense cover of Led Zeppelin’s ‘The Immigrant Song’ which the band state as an ‘original composition’. They’re having that much fun and it’s reminiscent of a 70s TV appearance. Yes, their ego’s are at their peak by the end of tonight’s action, but who could blame them? Greep waggishly makes the statement that ‘Two of the best albums of the century are being dropped early next year’.
This is really quite the venue. Never afraid to take a risk, and here Tim and Co prove they really can make it pay off. Here’s to more Roofdog beers and multiple nights in The Windmill next year. Top class stuff this.