Last week Black Country, New Road made their US debut at NYC’s very own Bowery Ballroom. The show sold out so fast that they added a second performance for earlier in the day and that matinee gig sold out just as fast.
Fortunately, I was able to get tickets to both performances after having missed them as the result of the cancelled North American dates this past winter. At that time, co-founder Isaac Wood announced he would be leaving the group and the band made the decision to cancel all tour dates and regroup. In fact, they wound up making just about the hardest decision any band can make, especially on the heels of their much-anticipated sophomore album, Ants From Up There (Ninja Tune). BCNR would reschedule their tour and play an entirely new set of songs and nothing from their two studio albums. Which also meant actually writing a whole new set of songs in a matter of months before hitting the road without Wood.
Even without knowing what to expect, other than YouTube clips circulating around, the crowd lined up outside Bowery an hour before the 3pm door time. (The same crowd would immediately get back on line afterwards and wait another two hours for the 8 o’clock show). When the time finally arrived and BCNR took the stage, the place erupted before a single note was even played. I’m sure the current members, May Kershaw, Charlie Wayne, Luke Mark, Tyler Hyde, Lewis Evans, and Georgia Ellery were anxious going out there, but that thunderous applause must have given them the adrenaline shot they needed. They kicked off the set with the high-octane energy of “Up Song” and had the whole room chanting “Look at what we did together!” by the end.
Black Country, New Road
From there the set was a mix of sad and sadder songs which was their joke when introducing each song. I didn’t have the time to take in or digest the lyrics as I watched and captured what was happening of course, but I can certainly speak to the music. With such a varied selection of instruments, including sax, flute, violin, and keyboards alongside the more traditional guitar, bass and drums, the sound was always organic and at times rich. And at other times it was subtle, even fragile, with sparse use of any instrumentation. They would slip in and out of rock beats, jazz stylings, even a waltz – sometimes within the same song. These different elements were highlighted in the syncopated beats of “The Boy” and “The Wrong Trousers,” the melancholy of “I Won’t Always Love You,” and the swell of “Across the Pond Friend,” and especially “Turbines/Pigs” which builds to a huge climax after a subdued first half.
BCNR left nothing on the stage, and as they informed the crowd, left no new song unsung as they didn’t have enough new material to keep playing. But while the matinee and evening sets mirrored each other, they did have one surprise for the later show. Ending with a cover of Billie Eilish’s “Happier Than Ever,” they were joined onstage by opener Horsegirl for one last kick-in-your-face jam that shows the dynamic range of this band.
Speaking of Horsegirl, the three-piece Chicago band has gotten a lot of buzz the past few years and I can see why. Fellow guitarists Nora Cheng and Penelope Lowenstein, along with drummer Gigi Reece blazed through a rocking set that included songs from their 2022 album Versions of Modern Performance (Matador Record). Highlights included set atmospheric opener “Electrolocation 2,” “Ballroom Dance Scene,” “Option 8,” “Beautiful Song” and the 2021 single “Billy,” which closed the set.
I for one cannot wait to see, hear and experience what lies ahead for BCNR as they just accomplished one of the best reboots of a band I’ve ever witnessed. Make sure to catch them on their North American tour with fellow greats black midi.
Scroll down for setlist, fan shot videos and pics of the show (photos by Kevin McGann)
Setlist: Up Song, The Boy, I Won’t Always Love You, Across the Pond Friend, Laughing Song, The Wrong Trousers, Turbines/Pigs, Dancers, Happier Than Ever (Billie Eilish cover with Horsegirl)**
**Late show only
BLACK COUNTRY, NEW ROAD