black midi

black midi

Is black midi performance art now? Halfway through this absolutely ferocious gig, keyboardist ‘Shank’ sneaks up behind the extraordinary saxophonist ‘Cassanova’ with a plastic pirate cutlass, and proceeds to ‘slash’ his neck. But lo! Casanova rises (through ‘the power of love’, we are told by vocalist and guitarist Geordie Greep, who is narrating the pantomime performance), and proceeds in turn to sneak up behind Shank and, well, shank him right back. But what’s this? Shank also arises, via ‘the power of tedium’ this time, ‘the tedium that will set in unless we stop this and play another song’, Greep deadpans. And so they launch back into it, tearing into ‘Chondromalacia Patella’ from their excellent early 2021 album ‘Cavalcade’. This isn’t the only odd interlude of the night; there are snippets of ‘The Candyman Can’ and opera interpolated in the middle of songs; the band come on stage to a boxing announcement, referring to them as ‘the undefeated black ‘Hellfire’ midi, band members rushing the stage blowing deafening whistles into mics; there’s a section in the middle where they turn into a genuinely good lounge band, Greep showing off his impressive croon to a light jazz backdrop from his band mates; there’s an interlude where bassist Cameron Picton names local football teams and their players, and whether he rates them or not (yes to City and Pep, and to Liverpool, no to United and Ronaldo, but yes to Rashford is the gist). It’s not your typical, straightforward band performance – this is not by any means your typical band – and it makes for a very entertaining Monday evening out.

black midi - Cavalcade album cover

black midi – Cavalcade album cover

This gig has been postponed for a couple of months due to an unfortunately timed throat infection, and it feels like that time has ratcheted up the anticipation to fever pitch despite the Monday night setting. It’s by some distance the most raucous gig I’ve been to since events started up again in late summer, and there is a young crowd down front, many of whom become topless as the evening goes on, sweaty t-shirts ripped off to allow more moshing and crowd surfing to go on. This band do not fuck about, ripping straight into a one-two punch of ‘953’ and ‘Speedway’ from their debut album ‘Schlagenhein’ with breath-taking intensity, saxophonist (and occasional jazz clarinettist) Kaidi Akinnbi (aka Cassanova) tooting and headbanging simultaneously, the crowd absolutely lapping his energy up and projecting it back at him. From here on in it barely lets up (save for the lounge-jazz section), the band rarely stopping to take breath. There is never a moment of silence, they link from one song to the next with short instrumentals or drones, and the noise they make, oh Lord the noise!, is unrelentingly thrilling. It’s surprising to look up and see the roof of the Ritz still attached to its walls as the band, led by their phenomenal drummer Morgan Simpson, tear through ‘Dethroned’ and an absolutely incendiary ‘John L’, as well as a host of songs not on their albums that I do not recognise but enjoy as much as the album tracks due to the sheer force of how brilliant this band are.

It’s rare to see an electric performance like this, one that feels like it’s constantly on the brink of falling apart completely, but is actually probably intricately rehearsed chaos made to look like devil may care improvisation. The dexterity of the band members is extraordinary, the skill on their instruments jaw dropping (Simpson’s relentless drumming being a highlight, almost black metal in its brutality and propulsion), and the sheer talent it takes to hold something like this together and make it even semi-coherent is astonishing. Forget everything you think you know about how a band composed of some lads on guitars, keys and drums (with a saxophonist thrown in) should sound and play: black midi is here to shatter the formula and present an exhilarating way forward.

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