January 21st | Thekla
Photos: Lee Ramsey
Wading through excited articles and forum posts, it feels like the name Black Country, New Road has come across more lips than Vaseline in recent months. A few eavesdrops around a sold-out Thekla reflects this sense the band are ascending rapidly, that their name will soon pass many more lips.
Opening tonight, fellow Londoners deathcrash establish their own credentials with the crowd. Without wishing to compare them, they display their post-rock influences more openly than BC, NR. This does not detract from their music. There’s a compelling tension to it – crisp guitar lines weave luscious textures under which Spiderland-style vocals reflect on despairingly open subject matter.
Experiencing flashbacks to when it felt like post-rock was endless noodling and receding hairlines, its easy to appreciate a youthful revisiting of its strengths. The band could be accused of being little more than the sum of its influences. However, by revisiting post-rock as a medium to explore personal fragility, tracks like ‘Slumber’ suggest deathcrash are a band who can contribute in developing its ideas.
Seeing a ‘buzz band’ like BC, NR carries a sense of anticipation – getting a glimpse of the next big thing. As they pick up their instruments, I’m reminded of the unhealthy pressure it brings: ‘do they live up to the hype?’.
BC, NR then kick into the klezmer-influenced jam that opens their set. The energy it should build is undermined by lingering feedback, which initiates a hard-to-ignore mini-drama onstage. Playing on as they try to identify the source, from the dancefloor, band members seem visibly unsettled by the issue.
From here they push on to single, ‘Athens, France’. Though the band is still finding its feet, textures created by the playing of Georgia Ellery (violin) and Lewis Evans (sax) already stand out. They effectively illustrate the emotional twists and turns of the tracks, connecting with the character studies of vocalist/guitarist Isaac Wood. The theatrical sung speech technique through which he performs his characters will be divisive. However, it is integral to what makes the band compelling, and offers much to appreciate.
At this stage, the response is cagey. Most are on the band’s side, yet applause feels polite and appreciative, not engaged. An unnamed third track turns this. Initiated by a whirl of noise from Wood, it climaxes with a deranged barrage of virtuosic dissonance from Evans and the guitarist. The audience response is rapturous – a fragile show finally on track.
The Young Team-era Mogwai riff of ‘Sunglasses’ then gets the biggest cheers. A song which showcases BC, NR at their best, rearranging elements from post-rock, jazz, post-punk and different folk styles in a way which breaks from expectations of what a ‘band’ should do. Powered by a brutal ending groove, ‘Sunglasses’ overcomes the chin-stroking disposition which can greet such a band.
Leaving the show, it is clear BC, NR possess immense technical talent and creative vision – their potential is boundless. There is an air of high culture to them, something which will provoke extreme reactions from some (they’re heckled tonight). This was by no means a disappointment; the band were enthralling at points. However, this gig demonstrated the distance they must go to realise their vision.
See the video for ‘Sunglasses’ here: