Black Country, New Road – Islington Assembly Hall 29/6/21 Live Review

Photo by Ashwin Bhandari

Since the world shutdown I always wondered what my first concert would be once they were safe enough to return. Well it’s been 18 months since the pandemic started and even with the vaccines rolling in, life has not gone back to normal by any means. I didn’t even attempt to purchase tickets for this ambitious tour back in February due to the likelihood of every show being cancelled or pushed back to 2022. 

Despite this, I had high hopes that this would be a night to remember. After stumbling from a friend’s house having just watched England beat Germany in the Euro Cup, I met my mate outside the venue. Aside from a few virtual concerts we also had not seen each other since the start of the pandemic, the oozing relief of familiarity felt alien to me at first but I quickly embraced it. 

We took our allocated seats on the bottom floor. Without a support act to sit down and settle into the venue with, after a while I went out to the smoking area. Having not interacted with strangers in so long and with my compulsive tendencies to attempt to strike up conversation, I asked if anyone was part of the ‘Sunglasses posting group.’ (A BCNR shitposting/fanpage). They stared at me with complete bewilderment. It had been a while since I had humiliated myself in public, so naturally I stubbed my cigarette out and went back inside after this conversation went nowhere.

As the lights gradually faded, we sat in silence as drummer Charlie Wayne emerged, thanking us for coming along tonight as well as explaining that all the new material being performed tonight were still ‘works in progress’ of sorts, encouraging us not to film or post them online. The sentiment is understandable, however with the majority of the set consisting of new songs, the temptation not to post at least a few snippets for an instagram story is hard to resist. Each date on this tour has had a different track blasting over the PA before the group’s formal arrival, and tonight we are treated to Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse Of The Heart”. Opening with “Instrumental”, the quirky track set the scene nicely, with Wayne leading the rhythm with his frantic drum patterns and May Kershaw on keyboard, leading the audience into an almost hypnotic trance before the rest of the seven piece outfit joined the huge stage.

Despite its aesthetically pleasing architecture, at this point it feels like the stage is almost too big for Black Country, New Road to handle all at once. With technical issues cropping up at the start as frontman Issac Wood attempting to find a working microphone and a few of the newer songs whilst grand in scale lacked the polish of older material. Whilst they might consider these tracks to be works in progress, the new material was still absolutely worth hearing, especially as each component of the band makes it feel like not a single moment is being wasted on stage. 

With cuts from For The First Time sprinkled in to bring us back to something more familiar, Issac feels far more enigmatic in his vocal performances live, enhancing the dramatic quips such as “The cursed vultures give me sour dough, my daily bread.” The lighting of the venue itself felt like it was almost melting into the background curtains, enhancing the chaotic nature of their music. Bassist Tyler Hide’s’ soothing vocals in the chorus of “Track X” and the sudden shifting to erratic, borderline discordant violin strokes from Georgia Ellery heighten the different ranges of emotion on display here, coupled by immaculate musicianship all round.

The set noticeably lacks “Sunglasses” or any ABBA covers played on previous dates of the tour, but mysterious new cuts like “Basketball Shoes” and “Snowglobes” give us a bright look into the band’s future. Whether Issac is almost slamming his guitar onto the stage floor or Georgia’s frantic headbanging in the more intense portions of new songs, you can’t deny how mesmerizing the whole show feels; unable to look away or think about the outside world for a glorious one hour and thirty minutes. There is no encore this evening but there doesn’t need to be. Black Country, New Road have gallantly hoisted their flag into the ground and it feels like nothing can stop them.

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