Live Review: Black Midi at The Slowdown…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , — @ 12:43 pm October 10, 2022
Black Midi at The Slowdown Oct. 8, 2022.

by Tim McMahan,

The warm-up music for Black Midi at The Slowdown Saturday night was lilting jazz from Wayne Shorter, falling on the ears of a mostly young audience packed into the bowl in front of Slowdown’s main stage. Not a sell-out audience, as the balcony was closed and you could easily get around, but still a healthy crowd, nodding their heads to Shorter’s “Adam’s Apple.”

No doubt the jazz playlist was the band’s idea. Though they have a rep for being a very hard art-rock band, at Black Midi’s core are elements of progressive jazz. So it came as a surprise when the lights finally came down at around 9:30 and the band entered the stage to the strains of The Verve’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony.” They took their respective places and preceded to crush it for a little over an hour.

Playing as a four-piece, most of the vocals were handled by guitarist and founder Geordie Greep, who switched between spoken-word phrasing a la Murray Head and a loungy croon that (for some reason) reminded me of Bobby Short. For a few songs, Greep handed over the lead vocals to bass player Cameron Picton (Greep himself taking up the bass for those songs), who either sang or had a shrill delivery akin to John Lydon.

None of that mattered because at the heart of the performance was Black Midi’s music that swung between a kind of lounge-prog to straight up art-noise, performed with acute precision and driven forward by Morgan Simpson’s drumming, which was nothing less than spectacular. Simpson gave a clinic on remarkable stick work, no stroke or beat wasted on a style that ranged from machine-gun bursts to glorious fills to shimmering cymbal work — here was the best drummer I’ve seen in years.

And Greep knew it, taking cues from Simpson, whose kit was set up off to the side of stage left, pounding away as the crowd moshed in a large pit out front. Between all that moshing and Greep’s beat poet/scat singing, the night had a sense of theater about it. It was Broadway crooning atop raindrop keyboards and aggressive punk married with slam poetry – a strange, wonderful combination.

Greep’s guitar work was angular and precise, reminiscent of Robert Fripp / latter-day King Crimson, while Picton’s bass was staccato fill rhythms when not carrying the weight of the chaos melodies.

The majority of the set was dedicated to the band’s latest release, Hellfire. Solid takes on “Sugar/Tzu,” “Welcome to Hell” and “27 Questions” were the standouts. Unlike the recording, no horns, but what are you gonna do? Late in the set the band performed what felt like a shortened version of “John L,” and I could see Greep look at Simpson and sort of shrug.

Though the crowd was clearly into it all night, there was no encore (as apparently there hasn’t been throughout this tour). Greep instead thanked each member of the band and the sound and support folks before leaving the stage.

The line for the merch table was long and deep. Homer’s should have set up a merch tent with used vinyl in the parking lot. Of course a band as complex and challenging as Black Midi could only attract the best music nerds, hungry for limited edition stuff and vinyl versions of the album they already own digitally, and no doubt played in their cars on the way home (as I did).

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