Black Country, New Road


Wow. Could probably leave this piece at that exclamation and be pretty pleased with how I’ve summed up my experience of this absolutely extraordinary show I’ve just witnessed. Might add ‘mind blown’ and just walk away from it. Because to try and explain to you, dear readers, just how ridiculously, astonishing good Black Country, New Road (BCNR from here on in, acronym fans) were tonight is going to be difficult. Ask my work colleagues – all I’ve done is talk about them since last night, and it’s all I can think about at the moment. There’s one thing for certain: this is going to be gushing. You have been warned; probably read on only if you are a fan of sycophantic fanboy ramblings (I mean, who isn’t?!)

BCNR are a new band to the point that they have two songs on streaming services, and that’s your lot. Yet they are up there with the most hyped bands in the UK right now, and word of their live show is spreading fast. Hence the Yes basement is rammed with Manchester’s finest young hipsters alongside a smattering of older dudes who have heard ‘Sunglasses’ on 6 Music, eager to see what the fuss is all about. They are part of the new wave of acts coming from the Speedy Wunderground label and the Brixton Windmill scene which has already spawned Black Midi, a band who many are comparing BCNR to (they have also shared a producer in Dan Carey). BCNR seem all too aware of this, with some of the lyrics of their first song going along the lines of “references, references, references/Have you heard Black Midi?”, with one eyebrow presumably arched to its maximum height. The comparisons aren’t unwarranted tbf, they share an unconventional set up (not many bands have a sax and violin player), an unconventional vocal style, and an unconventional, utterly unpredictable song structure. Yet there’s just something even more compelling and thrilling about what BCNR have constructed here, and I genuinely reckon they will soon smash out of the shadow of their fellow upstarts.

A lot of this is down to vocalist and guitarist Issac Wood who is magnetic, despite standing to the side of the stage with his hood up throughout the whole thing. The lyrics to these incredible songs just seem to spew and tumble out of him, referencing everything from Ariana Grande to big pharmaceuticals, in an odd, quivering, sing-y speak-y kind of way that is somehow completely perfect. And his guitar playing! Oh lord, the noise he’s making with it is incendiary, even before anything kicks off he’s mangling some unholy noise out of it that grows like a space rocket about to blast off before the rest of the band joins him, Lewis dead centre of stage, so tall he’s almost touching the ceiling, tooting away on his sax, Georgia on violin adding sometimes a sense of absolute dread and menace, sometimes the most beautiful string lines, and Charlie hammering at the drums in all the time signatures known to man. First single ‘Athens, France’ is electric, the sardonic lyrics shouted back by eager voices (a particular favourite being, “She flies to Paris, France, I come down in her childhood bed/She tries to fuck me, I pretend I’m asleep instead”), the first iteration of many mosh pits starting to form, the song twisting and turning in about eight directions at once ending up in a military style march beat that pulsates through the entire basement.

There’s an Arabian nights-esque jam that showcases the sheer musicianship of the band, it’s almost queasy as it builds and builds somehow into something weirdly chilling, but it’s so, so good, the kids bouncing around the floor, shoes lost and found in the mire. ‘Sunglasses’ is just an absolute monster, tossed off in the middle of their set, the music almost seasick as it crescendos to a point where it sounds like it’s about to fall apart completely before being masterfully brought back from the brink into an absolute tight as fuck jam, the audience shouting, “I AM MORE THAN ADEQUATE, LEAVE KANYE OUT OF IT” back at the stage with obvious glee, an iconic lyric in the making.

It’s the final two unknown songs that catapult this gig into something else, somewhere near the stratosphere of ‘fuck me this is incredible now’. The first one is almost Russian in style, that Kalinka vibe heavily present throughout, as Woods repeats over and over, “Everyone’s coming up/Guess I’m a little late to the party,” as the band make a glorious ungodly racket around him that tests the limits of the sound system, before it collapses into a the final song which is just exceptional.

The calm after the noise is Wood’s gentle, seven note guitar refrain played over and over to soothe our battered ears, before the bass and violins join in with the exact same notes, building a base for a relatively slow, beautiful track that features the line, “I died about fifteen times watching her undress,” which is somehow just so perfect, the song taking unexpected u-turns throughout it’s near 15 min duration, but always coming back to a version of those first seven notes, it’s just mind blowingly spectacular. And with that they are done, leaving to some of the longest and loudest cheers I’ve heard at a gig this year, people heading back to the real world exclaiming that it’s genuinely one of the best gigs they’ve ever been lucky enough to witness. And they’re right. Sell your grandma to get a ticket to their next set of shows, believe the hype; Black Country, New Road are a band that could quite possibly change your life.

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