Last year, I was so excited to learn about and eagerly jumped on the bandwagon for the British art band, Black Country, New Road, and their second release, Ants from Up There, was everything I had hoped for and more. Four days before the release, lead singer Isaac Wood announced his departure from the band due to mental health struggles and I hope he’s taking care of himself.
The band did something unique, given their circumstances, and banded together and created new music and quickly played some shows locally to what I would assume help acclimate themselves with the new material. Earlier this year they released a live album, Live at Bush Hall, showcasing to the rest of the world what we could preemptively expect when they were making their touring rounds to the states. If you’re not familiar with their music, the best way I can describe them is a multilayered, lyrical-based musical troupe of orchestrated chaos. I’d say it lands somewhere in between a mix of Broken Social Scene and Los Campesinos having a kid who was trained by Max Richter, and if there was an actual adult version of Roald Dahl’s character, Matilda group and the music she would make. Either way it's a long winded way of saying it doesn’t matter how I describe their music, all my chips are in for either version of the band.
When I moved to Chicago back in 2001 the first show I saw was Sigur Ros at The Vic and was one of the first times I experienced awe-inspiring chills from what I was seeing and experiencing. I’d be remiss to say I haven’t had many similar affecting reactions in the twenty years since; on Wednesday evening at Thalia Hall at a certain point in Black Country New Road’s set I did feel that same way again. The evening’s set was almost identical on paper to the recently released album with the addition of two new songs in the mix. Honestly not having experienced a BCNR performance I didn’t know what to expect and even though the sextet stayed fairly dim lit through the night their play spoke volumes and each member’s parts were clearly present and heard. Lewis Evans with the lead in sax intro for “Up Song” set the tone and pace for their set, wearing a White Sox hat at one point declared Chicago the best city in the States. There was very little commentary throughout the show aside from a humble admission of excitement to be in town and revalidating Evans' earlier exclamation for their love of Chicago and they’d definitely return!
The highlight for me was their near 16 minute rendition of “Turbines/Pigs,” which as they were playing brought up a lot of those aforementioned “feels” in a way that I don’t have the words best to describe them but in a manner where I could roll up and cry and that’d be okay. There was something about May Kershaw’s voice that made me feel both vulnerable and safe at the same time. At some point in the song, the intensity was so high the cymbals literally crashed to the floor from drummer Charlie Wayne’s play. Kershaw introduced the final song of the evening given there were literally no more songs they could play. I feel like our evening with them was something special and secret in a “IYKYK” kind of way and am so excited to see/hear how this group continues to evolve.
24/7 365 British Summer Time *
I Won’t Always Love You
Across the Pond Friend
Nancy Tries to Take the Night
Up Song (Reprise)
* new song