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Live Review: Black Country, New Road @ Baltimore Soundstage — 4/26/24

One of the many unique joys of experiencing live music is seeing a packed house utterly transfixed by what’s going on the stage. The British sextet Black Country, New Road took a completely new set of material to the Baltimore Soundstage Friday night and made those fortunate enough to be there come away feeling like they’d witnessed something special. 

Black Country, New Road (BCNR) began in 2018 in Cambridgeshire, England, and released two full-length albums by 2022: the collection titled For the first time in 2021 and the critically acclaimed Ants From Up Here the following year. But in that short time, the band went through some pretty harrowing turns.

On the eve of the release of Ants, songwriter and lead vocalist Isaac Wood left the band for personal health reasons. This left BCNR with the unenviable task of what to do next. In respect to Wood, the members of BCNR — Tyler Hyde (bass/vocals), Lewis Evans (saxophone/flute/recorder/vocals), Georgia Ellery (mandolin/violin/vocals/recorder), May Kershaw (keyboards/accordion/vocals), Charlie Wayne (drums/vocals), and Luke Mark (guitar) — recorded a set of all new music with the understanding that future live shows would include only the new material. That material, a live recording titled Live at Bush Hall, included a video performance of the album as well (see below).

The album itself it something new entirely than what came before, but the elements are there. Expert arrangements, contemplative lyrics, and a complicated emotional narrative fill the record.

A lot of the material performed at Baltimore Soundstage on April 26, on the BCNR “first ever headline show in Baltimore” was from Live at Bush Hall, and a fair amount of the material was brand new and unreleased.

This would be a daunting task for any band, but they’ve had some friends along the way. Most notably was fellow UK band black midi of whom Cameron Picton, aka Camera Picture, provided a brilliant solo set to open the evening.

Cameron Picton aka Camera Picture

Hitting the stage to Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing,” the members of BCNR took the stage to enthusiastic applause they started off with a new song, “Horses” which hasn’t had it recorded debut yet. In fact, about half the set were completely new songs. But, either by enthusiasm by the band or the crowd, each one felt well-worn, like a favorite sweater. 

Songs on their most recent album, Live at Bush Hall, really shone here. From the frenetic drums of Charlie and Georgia’s announcement of “Chapter One…” it felt exciting. Even the somber tones of songs like “Laughing Songs” were compelling. The combination of orchestral waves of sound and words like pastoral hymns made a crowded and chaotic rock club feel like a worshipful experience.

In spite of all the drama that may have been going on both in and outside of the Soundstage, for those brief moments, like when May gets to the end of the last line of “Laughing Boy” — when I have accepted that no one else will make me laugh like that ever again — and all the rest of the band drops out, you could hear a pin drop before the applause. 

Black Country, New Road

With BCNR there is no one “lead,” as songs are sung by different members. Cohesion can be an issue, I think, with a fair number of artistic collectives but BCNR feels like a family. One song they did not perform that night, the lead track on Live at Bush Hall entitled “Up Song,” does give you that sense of mutual accomplishment with the refrain “Look what we did together / BC,NR friends forever.”

Watch the official video for “Live at Bush Hall” by Black Country, New Road on YouTube:

Another one of the newer songs, “Nancy Tries to Take The Night,” started off slow and deliberate but then, buoyed by recorders and flute and a driving drumbeat, it opened into piano and violin to end with a cascading line of saxophone. That and songs like “Turbines/Pigs” were an emotional ride — it’s not a straight line, but that’s the point. You feel like at the end of each song you have been on a journey. 

“So as you’ve heard we’ve done quite a few new songs tonight. It sounds like you’ve liked them,” May told the crowd before starting “The Mare of Cambridge,” the most theatrical of the set. If these newer songs are any indication, BCNR’s next record will be incredible.

The band ended with “Dancers” followed by “Up Song (Reprise)” from Live at Bush Hall. I was not sure what to expect before this set, but sometimes having no expectations provides the best rewards and BCNR certainly delivered.

Black Country, New Road continue their tour of the USA into June.

The setlist included:

The Boy
Laughing Song
Nancy Tries to Take the Night
The Mare of Cambridge
Up Song (Reprise)

Here are more photos of Black Country, New Road performing at the Baltimore Soundstage on April 26, 2024. All photos copyright and courtesy of David LaMason.

And here are more photos of Camera Picture opening for Black Country, New Road at the Baltimore Soundstage.