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The Allegory of the Gig – Featuring Black Country New Road (Opus Prime) Featured

  • Written by  Steven Velentzas

 

 

 

Last night we had the opportunity to tune in and stream BC,NR's set out of London's Southbank Centre. The 7 piece played to a live and global audience in a sparsely lit, and even sparser filled, theater. The audience which I assumed were a few lucky friends and family (and maybe they were) soon surprise us. Standing up we learn they're paired with wireless mics joining BC,NR's chorus of voices fleshing out the end of Track X, the 6th in the set much like the doo doo doos in Lou Reed's Take a Walk on the Wild Side. Flagged by 3 screens juxtaposed with seemingly non-relevant Americana imagery while projections spill out and over the walls draping the theater in muted light and moving imagery. The hour long set oscillates out and over the Southbank, across the Thames, through London and broadcasts itself out over the ether and onto our screens. A memorable and delightful evening in.

It's very difficult, for me, to sum up BC,NR (you can't just call a group 'post-punk' like the promotional blurb, everything made in the last 30 years is in fact that). It's not the first time I've seen them play and still I feel like they're a group better heard than described. I was caught off guard, pleasantly, at Rockaway Beach 2020 (billed as the first, and unbeknownst to us all, the last festival of the year). BC,NR is an eclectic group of talented musicians that seemingly take no discernible cues from one another when playing culminating in a sea of rogue waves that still manage break upon the shores, that is their audience, in pitch perfect unison.

Although they may look young don't let their appearances fool you, their talent and music is no fluke and lurks Mariana deep. Mark's Theme which open's their set with contemporary sax and keys soon teases in the rest of the instrumentals. Ironically enough this leads to the second track of the night, Instrumentals. These arrangements remind me of 77 year old farther of Etho-Jazz Mulatu Astatke's Etho-Jazz album Ethiopiques which is a favorite of mine and probably why I enjoyed it so much. It's a feverish collection of sounds that seemingly on the surface clash through frantic keys and percussion reined in and woven together seamlessly by brass and bass forming a rich tapestry of sounds. Each of their songs keeps you on your toes and perhaps even slightly off-balanced, like a man with crooked teeth laughing and smiling with his mouth wide open, to borrow a line from Murakami.

The set continues in this manner of musical Jenga full of tension and suspense. I find myself rocking my head back and forth as their performance spills out to and over me from my giant screen through noise canceling headphones alone in my flat with a chilled glass to hand of neat 13 year old scotch, which I refill at my leisure without any small talk distracting me from the music. Isaac Woods (Guitar/Vocals), a young Cillian Murphy doppelganger, is an old soul whose singing style is as melodic as it is unpredictable, truly a dark poet. Although lyrics for track 4's Science Fair are a seemingly the base of an unconventional love song one can't help to wonder if elements like burning, bubbles and methane gas go deeper than that. The intensity in his performance, and the band as a whole, goes from a gripped lot of strained neck cables bulging while shouting out “black country new road!” (don't you love when they use the title of the movie in the movie?) to hushed and lulling tones of “losing myself in the light of the tv” as I too was in the process of doing so rounding the bend into track 5, Sunglasses, one of my favourites in their set thus far.

As I let the music wash over me throughout their set I reach Opus which is, and remains, my favourite part of the show and album. It's a song whose icy fingers claw their way up your clammy back forcing you up and out into the light splashed shadowy alleys of Djemma el Fna Square chasing you relentlessly up and down between the open air night market stalls before slamming you full force into a row of duplicitous looking vendors. The tempo dips a bit just before the 2 minute mark, the equivalent to taking a sharp bend into dark and trash strewn alley, a break in the chase. Looking over your shoulder you're afforded a respite, you've lost them, only to discover the track is 8 minutes long and you're far from out the other end. And in fact, just under a minute later, your veins are pumping battery acid as the song takes off again, on and off and on and off in sprints. Perhaps the most haunting visions are of the sax-ual overtones which chase after me like insidious apparitions. The crown jewel of the set. The performance finishes up with with track 8 and 9, Bread Song and Basketball Shoes respectively of which the audience/chorus chimes in again, the house lights come on and the set concludes a bit abruptly just shy of an hour. Was it worth it, was it even a gig?

If you're unfamiliar with Plato's allegory of the cave here's the nickle tour. You think something is reality, you're then shown what reality actually is (it's blinding like BC,NR live), then you're chucked back into non-reality with a bunch of people that have never seen it and don't believe or care about anything you have might have to say about it (think a shadow puppet show, like BC,NR streamed). I've seen BC,NR live, does a stream do it justice? Short answer, no. You're conventional gig has a couple of support acts and a headliner on a good night this takes up the better part of 3 hours. Not only do you see your faves live, up close and personally with DNA spraying everywhere if you get in early enough, you also get to feel the music blast through you. The gig streamed over YouTube in low-quality, there didn't seem to be any camera blocking and the sound was hollow. I watched on an upper mid-range 4K set up, not on my phone or laptop, and was thoroughly disappointed/At a tenner a pop I would've rather come home with the bottom of my shoes sticky from the Shack. I couldn't choose better quality and it looked like a bad copy of a VHS tape, that's been copied twice before (see screenshots via our gram). The Pros? I could replay it (but why bother after that description?) and I could use the voucher from the ticket sale to get 10% off the new album which I personally highly recommend. The Cons, if I'd paid I'd feel ripped off by the gimmicky normcore of it all. The sound, picture quality and choreography on reels and stories across all socials comes off slicker than this did. It's a poor substitute for the real thing, like rations. Personally I'd save my squids (not a typo) and either buy the album or wait to see them live with a few other great up and comers. Hopefully, we won't have to wait too much longer, if we do however, Southbank should up their game.

 

 

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