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Review: Black Midi - 18/02/20 - Riverside, Newcastle - Gigs North East

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Review: Black Midi – 18/02/20 – Riverside, Newcastle

25/02/2020

Before black midi sucked us into their jazz-rock universe, choral music played at an annoyingly loud volume for an annoyingly long time. The audience were forced into a purgatory of sorts where drum rolls promised the band’s arrival and choirs promised peace and both failed to deliver again and again and again.

Just as I was losing hope, the band emerged, funky and eccentric and overwhelmingly talented. The crowd immediately formed a surprisingly large mosh pit. black midi are a lot more nuanced and unusual than their rock influences; there is jazz, there is punk and there are shoegaze, psychedelic rock and indie themes. All conjured up in a hypnotic potion that continued to surprise as the set played out.

The band began with their new song “John L,” which rolled out a repeated drum beat with sporadic pauses that left a liminal silence exciting in its confidence. The tune got faster and faster until the audience were able to breathe again, during a suddenly funky intermission until what sounded like a car horn sound occupied the venue. From the chaos emerged a web of contrapuntal and syncopated rhythms that were reminiscent of a grungy Steve Reich.

The set was punctuated throughout with jazz moans from the saxophone, which added a funky edge to the more intense rock-based sounds that permeated Riverside. There were trance-like electronic sighs that returned to city sounds and rock riffs, creating an urban ambience that transcended any one genre.

The anchor throughout this musical whirlwind was the band’s regular return to repetitive rhythms and chords that stamped their way through the sonic adventure black midi dragged us on. At times, listening to the band was like being in traffic, with less of the frustration and more of the feeling of being present in but detached from chaos, floating away from any sense of time passing. The complexity of the band’s rhythm invited impressive interaction from the crowd who clapped along more rhythmically than can usually be expected at a concert. But then this was not an ordinary performance.

black midi’s stamina was impressive: the band hurled themselves through rapid tempos and strong sounds, breaking sporadically to indulge in some more indie and shoegaze moments before returning to the commotion. There was no introduction to each song; the music blended together into a journey through sound.

The beginning of their song “Western” opened with a more country and folk feel before being drawn back into the jazz-rock world from which it came. This song is in itself an odyssey through genre, staggering between folk, pop, rock, funk, jazz, indie  music and so on, often without warning. This is characteristic of the band’s performance as a whole.

There was a Bowie-esque edge to the vocalist Geordie Greep’s sound. The singer pulled faces and rarely spoke to the crowd in a fascinating, focused and sometimes bizarre performance. Towards the end of the set the band covered “Message in a Bottle” by The Police in an unexpected but enjoyable detour from the intensity of the rest of their performance.

Throughout the concert, it felt as though each instrumentalist became his instrument and the people themselves faded

into the sounds. The drummer reeled out impressively complicated and fast rhythms and the saxophonist used harmonics to create screaming and groaning sounds across octaves that were almost human in their pain.

As the set came to an end, the lighting adopted a lightning colour and flash that fittingly returned us to the purgatory the gig had begun with. After their last song, black midi danced around the stage to Bugsy Malone’s “Fat Sam’s Grand Slam” in an odd turn  that was entertaining and unsettling in equal measure.

black midi took us on an epic journey through sound that transcended the usual confines music finds itself organised within, instead creating a sonic spectrum that cannot be reduced to any one genre.

Words: Rosie McCrum

Photos: Lewis Palmer

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