Black Country, New Road perform an exciting new set of brand new songs following the departure of vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Isaac Wood.
BLACK COUNTRY, NEW ROAD
LIVE AT BRUDENELL SOCIAL CLUB, LEEDS
In the week building up to the release of Black Country, New Road’s highly acclaimed sophomore album Ants From Up There back in January this year, their lead vocalist, lyricist and rhythm guitarist Isaac Wood sadly departed from the band. This forced the English chamber rock, post-punk, avant-prog ensemble to cancel a large tour at short notice at such a crucial time. With the album landing a few days later, it gave it an even stronger resonance with fans as Wood’s deeply personal and enigmatic vocals and lyrics were for many the strongest focal point. The band put out an official statement on their social media pages with a fairly cryptic explanation from Wood himself. Sadly it seems that stage fright and mental health issues may have been too overwhelming for him. “I have been feeling sad and afraid. I have tried to make this not true but it is the kind of sad and afraid feeling that makes it hard to play guitar and sing.” This glowing honesty and speaking out about inner turmoil was very positively received, with myself and a legion of fans offering their sympathies. I certainly hope his time away has allowed him to heal. “This is completely in spite of six of the greatest people I know,” Wood clarified, hinting at his blessing to see the rest of the band to continue on.
This shocking news must have been a scary and devastating time for the remaining sextet, but their response has been exemplary, announcing a small run of “warm-up” shows across smaller venues around the UK. In an interesting twist, BC, NR announced that they will not be performing any former material – not even from their current album release. This presented a very exciting premise for lucky fans who were able to get tickets (that sold out in about a second) being able to see a band they love perform a live set of entirely new material. Between this announcement and driving over to the wonderful Brudenell Social Club in Leeds to see them play, my mind had been on overdrive just trying to imagine what on earth this new show and set of songs could possibly be like!? Would the remaining members perform instrumentally from now on? Could they possibly try and replicate the bizarre idiosyncratic stream-of-consciousness lyrical style that Isaac Wood brought to the band, or would they try out a new sound entirely?
The Black Country, New Road sextet took the Brudenell stage to a rousing applause and looked in good spirits before a full crowd of anticipating and curious faces. The band got right to it with a loud and punky song driven by thrashy drums from energetic percussionist Charlie Wayne. This song noticeably featured a chorus lead by bassist Tyler Hyde chanting the initials “B-C-N-R” acting like a cartoon theme song or a sports anthem. A fun and breezy number to break the tension nicely. It soon dawned on me how quickly Black Country, New Road have managed to create a whole new hour of music and how confident they came across performing, like their stride had not been broken. Their next song was a gloomier mid-tempo multi-faceted number where Hyde and pianist May Kershaw shared vocal duties with audibly announced chapters (“Chapter One”, “Chapter Two,” etc.) This song had an air of familiarity to it, showcasing the band’s remarkable storytelling abilities and was enhanced by Lewis Evans’ expressive saxophone and flute playing, as well as Nina’s (covering for absent Georgia Ellery) stirring violin.
There were a couple of songs where Evans tried out lead vocals, one of which was an excellent vocal duet with Tyler Hyde that had an ethereal lounge jazz vibe. Late into the set the jazzier, prog vibes reared their head with darker and more challenging offerings. Guitarist Luke Mark is still spinning brilliant math rock style spidery guitar arpeggios and drove forwards a really heavy, riffy track embellished with discordant piano, sinister sax and off-kilter drums. The finale was truly astonishing, beginning as a solo piano and vocal piece from Kershaw. This touching ballad told a story through the mind of a pig, with spellbinding classical influenced piano playing. What seemed like it could be a solo track from Kershaw for the first few minutes, turned into a lengthy epic akin to ‘Sunglasses’ and ‘Basketball Shoes’. The rest of the band gradually entered in rounds and the song grew from a piano ballad into a stunning, gripping heavy jazz-rock dirge that drove the Leeds crowd wild.
Black Country, Road still very much sound like Black Country, New Road. All the amazing elements are still there and flourishing with aplomb. But in the absence of one of their star players only comes a greater sense of unity. Hyde, Evans and Kershaw each adding their own lead vocal styles and lyrics into the BC, NR fore only expands their possibilities further. All of their voices sounded fantastic and distinct, but in particular bassist Tyler Hyde really felt like a natural kinship to Isaac Wood. Her lyrics were also fairly abstract and personal, and with such a strong singing voice she could easily become a lead vocalist. Yet I feel like now more than ever, Black Country, New Road are working even harder at being a true ensemble; leaning on the strengths of each other, and like an orchestra, performing in rounds. They have a remarkable ability of knowing when to duck out and listen to each other, and then all come together for a grand cacophony of heavy, majestic noise. Whilst Isaac Wood was previously more of a focal point than the other band members, I now feel like there are six central focal points. This makes me incredibly excited to hear what comes next. Much like Pink Floyd, who too lost their enigmatic front-person Syd Barrett after only two albums, I feel like BC, NR will only go on to make even more incredible music and grow together as an exciting ensemble. These new songs and this performance was nothing short of outstanding. For something billed as a “warm-up”, Black Country, New Road set Leeds on fire!
Black Country, New Road. Brudenell Social Club, Leeds. May 22nd 2022.