Live Review: Black Country, New Road [Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, London] March 6, 2021

By March 8, 2021 Live, Reviews

As I curl up on the couch to review the self-proclaimed world’s 2nd best Slint tribute act, I can’t help but analyze the live stream format; feeling easily that this statement might as well be BC,NR lyric itself. It’s interesting to consider how the meaning of art changes depending on the medium it is presented in.

BC,NR open up with the sombre tribute Mark’s Theme, which I believe is dedicated to saxophone player Lewis Evans’ uncle. A Klezmer-inspired piece follows it up entitled Instrumental – if you are familiar with the album, this is the intro track. I feel I could be watching the BBC Proms, and not the most hotly-tipped British act by The Quietus. 

Behind the band are three large screens with stock video footage cycling through. Something that’s become synonymous with the band since the start, like an aversion to play the game. A blandness that attempts to showcase the music in its intended form, without hiding behind a glossy brand. In doing so, they present a wry tongue-in-cheek image which, ironically, has become their brand. 

Just as an orchestra moves through the movements of a symphony, the band conducts themselves gracefully into their next track Athens, France. The songs in these live performances have a lot more room to breathe. The soft is softer as the band strips down to hear the fragility in frontman Isaac Woods’ voice. The heavy is heavier as the songs really benefit from the emptiness of the room. You really feel the echo in the spaces between dissonant guitar, screeching violin, and stabs from the saxophone.

Science Fair’s atonal jittery guitar motif reminds me of no-wave acts such as James Chance. They somehow construct chaotic and discordant energy, yet always fall back on the beat. The outro hits hard like some sludgy sabbath-y noise rock. 

We finally hit Sunglasses, a personal favourite of mine, and the first notes of the sax really hit you in the feels. The slow down is so much more daunting in this context, and I’m loving it. The song, however, is cut short with an entirely new build-up in place. I feel this will be just as divisive in their fan community as the surprise lyrical changes on the album.

Personally, I don’t want bands to just rehash recorded material and find it refreshing to hear new renditions of songs live, but sadly they’ve cut a lot of the comedic and satirical elements that made Sunglasses so compelling. It feels like they are trying to take themselves more seriously and I don’t know if I’m here for it yet, but it’s understandable for a new band trying to find their feet.

Track X reveals the sparse crowd in Queen Elizabeth Hall that is shown to us at the beginning of the set are in fact backing singers, as they stand up and take their position as a choir. I really enjoy this and it was a nice subversion away from what you expect in a live stream. The crowd’s presence really adds to the next track Opus, cultivating a really apocalyptic vibe, like a dark national anthem.

BC,NR seemed to have softened their edges a bit for a folkier offering of Bread Song, a soft bloomer that I feel may grow on me with repeated listens. They close the night with Basketball Shoes which starts with Woods introducing second guitarist Luke Mark, who is now donning a double-neck guitar. This final song is the longest in the set and most post-rock-like to-date. I wouldn’t be surprised to find the eventually recorded version soundtracking the next David Attenborough documentary. It builds into an immense finale that made the most mundane of stock images behind them seem epic. Nicely done.

Words: Edward Alan Logie

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