February 12th | Marble Factory
Black Midi was one of the most surprising breakthrough acts of 2019. In a time when rock music as a whole seems to be getting safer and prettier, there’s something refreshing about a band who make music that’s uncompromising, abstract and ugly. Their fantastic debut album, Schlagenheim refused to make things easy for listeners, with its prickly textures, beautifully strange detours and vocals that could belong to David Byrne’s evil twin.
The group’s previous headline show was at Fiddlers last summer; the fact that they’re now headlining Marble Factory – with a show that comfortably sold out months ago – shows how much their popularity has blown up since then. Despite this fame boost, there’s no sense that the group have felt the need to make themselves more accessible and tonight they lean into their idiosyncrasies more than ever. Before the show starts, operatic music booms through the venue, and when the band arrive on stage, lead singer Georgie Greep is wearing a cartoonishly large winter coat and hat. He waves to the audience and then carefully takes them off before the band tear into their set.
The opening song – a new one – gives the recent additions to Black Midi’s live line-up a chance to shine. Kaidi Akinnibi is particularly impressive, with his saxophone-playing allowing the band to further tease out the jazz influence that lurked underneath the floorboards of Schlagenheim. Keyboardist Seth Evans is perhaps slightly less noticeable, positioned at the back of the stage, but he also helps to add some extra layers of sound. While the song is less angular and warped than the material on their debut, it still feels very much like Black Midi.
Still, the band are able to go heavy when they need to, and it only takes a few songs for them to dive into older material. As the opening riff of ‘953’ kicks in, the whoops of the crowd suggest it’s a moment they’ve been waiting for and the mood in the room quickly shifts. The song is an absolute monster and gets the whole room jumping up and down. The thriving ‘Reggae’ is another highlight – Akinnibi’s saxophone-playing adding an additional layer of intensity – as is the mangled ‘Crow’s Perch’.
There are no real lulls throughout the hour-long show and it always feels as though they have the room in the palm of their hand. During ‘Of Schlagenheim’, the crowd opens up a huge mosh pit in anticipation of the song’s finale. And seeing this, the band make sure to drag out the song’s quiet middle section, teasing the impatient moshers with the drop they’re eagerly waiting for. Despite engaging in plenty of strange detours, including the lengthy closing track, which features a drawn-out finger-picked intro from Greep, they never feel unnecessary or indulgent.
As the show finishes, Greep puts his big coat and hat back on and Black Midi leave. The lights shine down on the stage for a couple of minutes more as the operatic music kicks back in. Though some gig-goers are muttering about the lack of an encore on the way out – the group’s signature song, ‘bmbmbm’ was missing from the show after all – the majority are still struggling to pick up their jaws. What a band.
Here’s the song they didn’t play, ‘bmbmbm’ from the most recent Mercury Prize ceremony: