Seven-piece band Black Country, New Road performed a live streamed set at Queen Elizabeth Hall March 6th. Beams of bright stage lights illuminated an otherwise dark atmosphere, and a mere 10-person live audience sat socially distanced in their seats. Described as post-punk, avant-garde or experimental rock, the group cannot easily shimmy its way into one genre or the other. The set took viewers on a rollercoaster ride of songs that quickened the heartbeat and may have caused a few existential crises.
The majority of the set list followed in sequential order of their debut album released last month, For the first time. Kicking off with the first track,“Instrumental” spoke volumes without the utter of a single word. The overlap of repetitive percussion, brass, strings and keys caused a bewitching complex cloud of sound. Thumping bass lines (Tyler Hyde), drums (Charlie Wayne) and haphazard saxophone (Lewis Evans) underlined the intense build up. It felt like being a spectator of a car chase or the blast off of Olympic runners surging towards a finish line.
Three screens behind the band rolled sensory clips like fireworks, glowing grins, a horse galloping in slow motion and a kid running as fast as his legs could take him. Each scene encapsulated a feeling of nostalgia, deepening a longing for the outside world that COVID has vastly changed over the course of the year. The video montages on loop were created by artists on Unsplash, the stock photo and video site that provided the album artwork on For the first time.
For “Athens, France,” the audience finally got a taste of Isaac Wood’s haunting lyricism and vocals. With a trembling charismatic tone, it felt like he was pouring out every ounce of what his soul had to give, on the brink of collapse. In the rises and falls of the song, it switched paces from a head-bobbing trance to light airiness carried by violin (Georgia Ellery) and the flutter of keys (May Kershaw).
At the apex of “Science Fair,” Wood unraveled his poetic temperament jolting into wailing. The grungiest of the set, they mastered the art of making complete and utter chaos sound intentional. Light, tattering drums kept the underlying anxieties alive even during quieter sweeping moments, complimented by hypnotic synths.
During “Sunglasses,” whirring, charged synths and distorted gritty guitar slowly brewed up like a heavy storm cloud ready to dump rain. Violin and saxophone cried out in unison as if they were singers themselves. Woods spoke his descriptive lyrics with both fragility and ferocity: “Mother is juicing watermelons on the breakfast island/ And with frail hands she grips the NutriBullet/ And the bite of its blades reminds me/ Of a future that I am in no way part of.” The song took an unexpected turn during the performance, differing from its recorded version. Cutting short some of the most climatic parts of the song created an entirely different build up. The interesting artistic choice exhibited variability but would no doubt raise the eyebrows of their devoted fans.
For “Track X,” in another unexpected turn, the camera panned over the sparse audience suddenly up and on their feet. Microphones in hand, they sang light backup melodies with the band. This only emphasized the eeriness of the set, mirroring the stoic energy of the band, whose faces never changed position. Close-ups revealed that they were seemingly expressionless, as if they were in their own bubble, blocking out any hint at an outside world. In a tangle of mesmerizing sounds, it’s incredible how each member can succinctly fall into the right place with ease. The live audience stood once again for “Opus” to sing ghastly notes in the background, attributing to the cult-like presence.
During the show’s entirety, no singular member took the limelight, each contributing a pivotal piece in all its moving parts. Each track took leaps from slow somber ambiance to full fledged organized catastrophe. Unreleased tracks “Bread Song” and “Basketball Shoes” brought the stream to a close. For the latter, Woods introduced guitarist Luke Mark, now holding his double neck guitar. Lasting longer than any other in the set, the journey hit its peak several times before cascading down to its end.