Review of Black Midi's Concert | Miles Vance
September 9th, 2022. Asheville, North Carolina. The Orange Peel.
Plenty of incredible rock acts have played at The Orange Peel over its 20-year history. The Black Keys, Jack White, Bob Dylan, Mastodon, Lamb of God, Queens of the Stone Age, and Gregg Allman, just to name a few. But I think there is probably a strong case to be made that this September, The Orange Peel saw one of its most vibrant and relevant performances ever. London’s Black Midi and Black Country, New Road collaborated to bring two hours of nonstop musical virtuosity, ranging from stunning emotional ballads to hard and heavy punk rock headbangers. The “Back in Black” Tour brought the music, and the fans responded with the most chaotic and impressive energy that I have ever seen at a show.
Black Country, New Road opened the show with a simple 8-song set. Every song they played was written after the 2022 departure of lead vocalist Isaac Wood. The band made a commitment to not play any music from their first two albums, including the highly praised Ants from Up There (2022). Despite this apparent setback, Black Country, New Road delivered a stunning display of emotion that contained a clear message: “we’re not going anywhere”. The first song they played was simply titled “Up Song”, and the rousing chorus reflects on the time spent with Wood and the future of the band: “Look at what we did together, BC,NR, friends forever”. It might sound like a corny line, but there were many damp eyes in the audience just a few minutes into the show. That song, along with the plurality of the other songs in the set, were sung by the bassist, Tyler Hyde. Some other highlights included the glittering chamber pop piece “I Won’t Always Love You” and an ambitious first swing at vocal expression from saxophonist Lewis Evans in “Across the Pond Friend”. The brief set concluded with Evans declaring that North Carolina is “the best Carolina”, and a delightful earworm of a closing track called “Dancers”.
After Black Country, New Road delivered their set, the audience’s attitude shifted almost immediately. The crowd compressed, with elbows and shoulders from behind forcing the crowd ever closer to the stage. After thirty minutes thick with anticipation, the speaker system began to play “Jerusalem” from English composer Sir Charles Hubert Perry. Although maybe not the expected opening track, the audience immediately began to surge forward as Black Midi took the stage. The first three tracks, “Welcome to Hell”, “Sugar/Tzu”, and “953” sent the audience into rapture, with multiple mosh pits opening instantly. During the first track, I felt like I was in an earthquake as the floor was physically rebounding off the ground from the synchronized jumping of the crowd. The instrumentation was tight and heavy, the drums sounded like a rattling machine gun, and the vocals were delivered in a unique and frantic manner. I can’t begin to attempt to explain the band’s lyrics or songwriting, but the audience clearly understood the vibes. The crowd was finding ways to sprint in circles or throw elbows around to even the most restrained music on the setlist. The show was also packed with memorable moments of personality from the band. This included frontman Geordie Greep apparently forgetting lyrics to a song and quipping, “King Charles III? I don’t know about that shit, King Greep III, I think we should give that a try.”
Although the majority of Black Midi’s setlist came from their newest album, Hellfire, there were some deeper or older cuts played too, including a funky version of their first single “bmbmbm”, and an insanely energetic version of “John L”, where the band launched into a ten-minute jam session in the middle of the song. The set concluded with “Slow”, which has become a staple of recent Black Midi shows. One notable variation in the show was the absence of saxophonist Kaidi Akinnibi. Although not a full-fledged member of the band, his work was present on Hellfire and 2021’s Cavalcade, and he had been a frequent presence in live shows. I was initially concerned by his absence, but I found that with his wailing saxophone missing, the screaming guitar and bass roots of the music were able to shine. Cameron Picton delivered thundering bass lines, Geordie Greep filled the room with his guitar, Morgan Simpson’s drums shook the crowd to its core, and the exceptional additive piano/keyboard work of Seth Evans provided a rough-and-tumble canvas for the band to project their work onto.
Ultimately, the show was one of the most electric and stimulating gigs I’ve been to in years. I can’t remember ever seeing a more energetic and passionate crowd. The audience shouted every lyric back to the band, danced constantly, and didn’t let up for an hour. Black Midi are undoubtedly one of the most tantalizing live bands out there, and they are steadily developing the catalog to back up their energy. As for Black Country, New Road, they have used this tour to prove that they still have the angst and powerful lyrics that brought them fame in the first place. Both bands have very bright futures and they are both acts to pay very close attention to over the next five years.
Best Performance: John L – When Black Midi were jamming in the middle of this tune, they played mini-covers of “Chelsea Dagger”, “Take Me Out”, “Money”, “Iron Man”, and “You Really Got Me”. These guys just know how to have a ridiculous amount of fun.
Best Quirk: The constant Queen Elizabeth II Jokes. Seth Evans and Cameron Picton both dressed in thrifted dark mourning jackets, and afterwards on Twitter Charlie Wayne (BCNR’s drummer) posted “Tonight was yours, your Madge”.