Fresh off their eclectic and frenzied album Hellfire, London indie-rock band Black Midi commandeered two sold-out nights on the outdoor stage at Mohawk Austin. The venue was a brief pantheon of alternative rock, with critically acclaimed Black Country band New Road opening on both nights.
It’s very rare for a supporting act to demand an amount of love nearly equal to that of their headliner. However, BCNR proves that the second show cannot stifle the talent and cohesion of one of the best emerging bands of their genre.
BCNR baptized in early 2022 with the release of Ants from above, arousing the admiration of fans and critics. A few days before the release, sullen vocalist and guitarist Isaac Wood quit the band due to mental health issues. The band’s month-long stint in support of Black Midi’s North American tour marks the first time American audiences will see the band’s new six-piece setup.
BCNR, which has collectively decided not to perform material from its time with Wood, debuted eight new songs during the final months of touring. From the opening notes of Lewis Evans’ undulating saxophone in “Up Song,” audience members could hear a pin drop on the stepped floor of Mohawk Austin’s pit. The song culminates with Tyler Hyde leading the group in the cathartic proclamation, “Look what we’ve done together / BCNR friends forever.” With alternate vocals from Lewis, Hyde and May Kershaw, the band showed off their virtuoso musical prowess and proved that BCNR becomes more than the sum of their parts.
The first strings of The Verve’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony” swelled as Black Midi took the stage to deafening applause from the audience. Geordie Greep, dressed as a pseudo-Heisenburg, moved fluidly as he danced to the buzzing wall of sound that accompanies the song “John L.” The track served as the central motif of the set, with the band performing various parts of the song throughout the night. Although touring in support of their latest LP, Black Midi performed a diverse setlist with an equal amount of songs from each of their three albums.
The measured chaos of Black Midi’s discography and avant-garde propensity may not fit the stereotypical molds of mainstream music, but their musical genius proves their transcendence beyond their contemporaries.
Loud music doesn’t equal good music, and while Black Midi will leave an audience’s ears ringing, the complexity of the band’s sound cannot be underestimated. If one were to focus on an individual member of the band amidst the chaos of the track “Welcome to Hell”, one would observe a musician completely enveloped in his artistry. Arguably one of the best drummers in the music industry, Morgan Simpson’s tight beats drove Greep’s frenetic chord progressions in songs like “Sugar/Tzu,” a jazz-infused ballad about a fight between Sun Tzu and Sun Sugar. Simpson’s drums provide an unshakable foundation for one of today’s top bands.
The combination of Black Midi and Black Country, New Road feels as natural as peanut butter and jelly – or West Campus and endless building. In the succinct words of the mystical narrator of the “Sugar/Tzu” track, “The audience won.”