– New Century Hall, Manchester –

Black Midi

Black Midi

Turns out black midi are still one of the funnest live bands around then, which is great news. It’s almost a year to the day since I last saw them perform their thrilling show at the Ritz, prior to the release of their fantastic album Hellfire from earlier this year. With that album firmly established as a fan favourite, and their thunderous previous album Cavalcade still very fresh in everyone’s minds, coupled with the sheer unpredictability of their live sets, there’s quite the atmosphere of excitement in the brand new (and very excellent) New Century Hall. A note on that – what a place, what a refurbishment. It’s respectful to its past, but also thrillingly modern somehow. Kudos to the architects who have brought this wonderful heritage space back to life and injected a new venue into town at a time when more seem to be closing due to pathetic housing planning or austerity led cuts to funding (12 years of tory will do that to the arts).

The crowd is pleasingly mixed between ‘heard them on 6 Music’ dads, and young folk who absolutely tear it up all night in a raucous moshpit down the front. It’s heartening to see that such an obtuse, downright weird guitar based band can still inspire this level of fervent adulation from a young audience; some gigs have got a bit staid due to the crowd in attendance, mainly I suspect because a lot of kids are priced out of attendance, but not here. They pogo and jostle and, well, twat into each other throughout the duration of every roaring banger thrown at them, only pausing to catch breath when the ‘crooner’ sections of the show let them take a well earned rest. Coming on stage to Michael Nyman’s baroque masterpiece ‘Chasing Sheep Is Best Left To Shepherds’, they don’t mess about launching straight into ‘953’ and ‘Speedway’ from their debut album Schlagenheim, and off we fucking go. The sound is crisp for the instruments, muddy for the vocals, meaning you can’t really grab onto the nuisance of Geordie Greep’s literary lyrics, but it matters not; the crowd down front know the lyrics and are shouting them back as the band wind them up to fever pitch.

We get a lot of Hellfire, and it’s all ferocious as the devil’s lair itself. ‘Eat Men Eat’, ‘Sugar/Tzu’, and an astonishing ‘Welcome to Hell’ absolutely tear off, Morgan Simpson’s pummelling, time-signature-defying drumming propelling the songs on and on, Greep’s motormouth speak-singing and guitar playing somehow keeping up in perfect time, and Cameron Picton’s bass doing things that bassists really shouldn’t, it’s an mesmerising show of ridiculous musicianship. My mate with me is struggling to grasp hold of it all, trying to keep up with the shifts in tempo and the unrelenting momentum of something like ‘John L’, a track received with the delirium of a Taylor Swift surprise appearance at a Stormzy gig. He also says ‘it’s like watching some mad musical’ at one junction between a rollocking thrown-the-kitchen-sink-at-it ‘Welcome to Hell’, and the quiet, understated ‘Still’, and he has a very good point. It’s theatrical, it’s kinda absurd, and it is very showy. If Andrew Lloyd Webber tried to stage a greatest hits musical based on black midi tracks, I suspect it’s plot would be unfollowable, full of degenerates and mad historical figures, accompanied by baroque, genre-bending songs, and would be closed in a month despite being hailed by critics in The Guardian and The Quietus as a masterpiece.

At one point, they interpolate snippets of Christmas songs into ‘John L’, and i’m wondering if this is black midi’s jumping the shark moment. But I can’t help but think they were already well beyond the shark when they started this deranged project anyway, they have always been a delirious whirlwind of a band. Seeing their show is like being on an aggressive rollercoaster; it’s disorientating, kinda confusing, maybe a bit scary, with little respite and quite a lot of ‘what’s gonna happen next?’. But if you pluck up the courage, strap yourself in and let the ride do its thing, it’s one hell of an experience. File under ‘not for everyone, but give it a shot at least once’ and I think most people will be pleasantly surprised. Bemused, but surprised.

black midi: Official | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram