Black Country, New Road aren’t exactly foreign to reinventions. The band first emerged as Nervous Conditions, though quickly disbanded in 2018 after its then-frontman Conor Browne was accused of sexual misconduct. Its remaining six members went onto take on a new name and a new form, signing to Ninja Tune [Bonobo, Bicep] and releasing two scene-shaking albums, ‘For The First Time’ in 2021 and ‘Ants From Up There’ the following year, both of which landed five-star reviews from NME, the latter being dubbed as a “future cult classic”.
But even their second album was released under a cloud. Four days prior to its release, lead singer Isaac Wood left the band, citing mental health struggles. A US headline tour was pulled, and the band have since pledged to not perform any of the songs from the Wood era in their live sets, instead following the tide and using the lineup change as an opportunity for a total reinvention. Lead singing duties are now shared by bassist Taylor Hyde, saxophonist Lewis Evans and keyboardist May Kershaw. Talent runs seriously deep in this band.
- Read more – Black Country, New Road on their fresh start: “We’re the most liberated we’ve ever been”
The context around ‘Live At Bush Hall’ may suggest some miraculous rebirth is due, but instead it proves less dramatic but more potent: a group of pals supporting one another through thick and thin. Recorded over two nights at the London venue – and with distinctly different performance settings – the group roped in fellow creatives to help build the sets and costumes, telling NME that it felt akin to a school play with all hands on deck.
On the accompanying live film, you get a slightly better sense of that feeling: members sharing grins, subtle encouragement and admiration told only with their eyes. Here, though, the new songs – performed throughout 2022 at their various live shows, and which may not feature on album three – have their moment to shine, away from the panto-like backdrop.
The tracks are less knotty than what they’ve released before, but the rawness is spectacularly beautiful. ‘Turbines/Pigs’, which clocks in at nearly 10 minutes, is simply stunning, where Kershaw’s vocals first dance around twinkling pianos and then explode with a full band instrumental. The final 30 seconds of the recording are dedicated to the crowd’s celebrations, and deservedly so.
‘The Boy’ moves with the same insistence as anything on Arcade Fire’s ‘Funeral’, while ‘I Won’t Always Love You’ shares the same sonic architecture as Radiohead. The band dub these 2022 sets as works-in-progress, and say that none of its members are precious about the songs, a problem that thankfully doesn’t bely this release. You sense even better is to come.
‘Live At Bush Hall’, then, offers a remarkable snapshot of a band in transition, one willing to push on and not let circumstances stand in the way of what they love doing most. They’re a collective that remain humble and ready to tackle whatever is yet to come, steadfast that, as a unit, they are unstoppable. No wonder that ‘Up Song’, the show’s opening song, reinforces that message simply and sweetly: “Look at what we did together / BC,NR friends forever”.
- Release date: March 24, 2023
- Record label: Ninja Tune