Black Country, New Road has faced some difficult times. Days before the February 2022 release of their second studio album Ants from Up There to critical acclaim, BC,NR announced that lead guitarist and singer Isaac Wood was parting ways with the group for his mental health. The band canceled its planned tour, instead scheduling a smaller one to stay afloat financially, and developed a set of new songs from scratch.
In December, they played a series of live performances at Bush Hall in London, recorded and released as the video Live at Bush Hall in February and then as the same-named album in March. BC,NR described the new material as a time capsule of their lives since Ants from Up There.
Their new sound is less guitar forward, having only one now in the lineup, and melodies feature more violin, sax, and piano. The members find balance between each instrument, displaying a palpable musical chemistry that explains how they were able to write around ten new songs in under a year. Watching their interactions live, it’s clear how close they are as friends. They’re genuinely having fun together on stage; the crowd feeds off that energy as much as the band feeds off the crowd. It’s what I looked forward to most when I went to see them at the Howard Theatre on Wednesday, September 20.
Brooklyn-based artist Daneshevskaya opened, performing two recent singles, “Big Bird” and “Stuck in the Middle,” as well as music from her 2021 EP Bury Your Horses. Her set was a mix between soft and minimal ballads, like “Dr. Johann Averies,” and louder, more upbeat rock songs that got the crowd moving. Throughout, her voice remained warm and contemplative with lyrics describing the feeling of disorientation frequent in one’s twenties. As it was the penultimate US show, she also took a moment to thank BC,NR for having her open nearly all their shows and to shout out all of the musicians in her band, explaining their contributions to the music she’s released.
After walking out to the national anthem, BC,NR jumped immediately into the opener from Bush Hall, “Up Song.” Tyler Hyde’s vocals quavered through verse and bridge before swelling into the resonant, sing-along chorus: “Look at what we did together, / BC,NR friends forever.” It was a group affirmation of the band’s unending camaraderie.
An unreleased, jaunty, and lighthearted song followed “Up Song,” sung by saxophonist/flutist Lewis Evans. He took the outro as an opportunity to introduce the other members, May Kershaw (vocals/piano/accordion), Nina Lim (touring violinist for Georgia Ellery, who’s on tour for Jockstrap), Charlie Wayne (drums), Luke Mark (guitar), and Tyler Hyde (vocals/bass). Except for the interjection of this unreleased song, and a later one dubbed “Nancy Tries to Take the Night,” replacing “The Wrong Trousers,” BC,NR ran through all the tracks from Bush Hall.
Hyde, Evans, and Kershaw rotated as lead vocalists. Hyde’s vocals punctuated the performances of “I Won’t Always Love You,” “Laugh Song,” and “Dancers”. Delivered first with minimal accompaniment and slowly moving to the chorus, her voice, unfaltering, reached through the dense instrumentals with poignant bleakness. While Hyde’s songs reference personal emotional struggles, Evans’ songs by contrast are more upbeat with wholesome lyrics. His song “Across the Pond Friend” had much of the crowd singing along. Kershaw’s song “The Boy” featured a more prevalent folk sound, which fit well with the woodland fable that unfolds in the lyrics.
Undoubtedly, the best song of the night was “Turbines/Pigs,” which sucked the audience in for its near 10-minute runtime. For the first 4 minutes, Kershaw sings as her fingers dance in a plaintive waltz across the piano, accompanied only by violin (while the other four bandmates sit on the stage and watch). Kershaw’s lyrics tell a folkloric story about feeling worthless in a romantic relationship, captured in the chorus: “Don’t waste your pearls on me (2x), / I’m only a pig (3x).” Just as it feels like the song is ending, she hammers out a series of cascading notes as the other instruments join in. All builds to a climax that erupts in piercing guitar chords, distorted bass, arpeggiated violin, piano, and sax, and a mental drum solo.
Before playing the last songs, “Dancers” and “Up Song (Reprise),” Tyler Hyde took a moment to thank the crowd for coming. Saying they “can’t wait to be back next time, ‘cuz there will be a next time,” Hyde promised that, despite their past difficulties, BC,NR doesn’t plan on going anywhere.