Written by Sadie Almgren
Meow Wolf, Denver’s gigantic, immersive, and psychedelic art installation, has a concert venue tucked back into the corner. The simple rectangular room feels infinitesimally small and immeasurably large at the same time, due to moving projections of oceans, the moon, and abstract shapes that drench all surfaces, except for the stage. A cathedral-like background lit up with red, blue, and pink lights in rhythm with the music lies behind the stage, mimicking palatial stained glass. A dome composed of rectangular lights encircled what appeared to be cotton ball clouds. I felt as if I was waiting to partake in a spiritual ceremony in some realm far from the world as I know it, and in some ways, I was right.
The opener, Daneshevskaya, was nothing short of dreamy. Playing sugary-sweet, atmospheric, and mellow indie pop songs including moments of delicate harmonies, impressive musical synergy between band members, and flute-driven instrumentation, Daneshevskaya complemented Black Country, New Road wonderfully. A perfect appetizer for what was to come. The New York based band’s unassuming, almost timid stage presence did not stand in the way of completely entrancing the audience in their spell of clean grooves. I thought to myself, this is the kind of music fairies probably listen to as they fly around magical forests.
At 9:00 pm on the dot, the lights dimmed, the fluffy, cotton ball clouds around the stage turned blue (signifying a storm was coming), and “The Time Is Now” (or as I know it, the John Cena song) began to play as six Brits adorned in head-to-toe Denver Nuggets gear walked onstage. Lewis Evans, swaying back and forth, began to plant the seeds of “Up Song”, repeating a musical phrase on the saxophone. Tyler Hyde soon joined in on vocals and bass, the first lyric she sang being, “Look at what we did together”, an invitation to the audience. Soon the rest of the band jumped into this chamber rock banger, all singing “Look at what we did together, BC,NR friends forever”. The most sing-along-able Black Country, New Road song, “Up Song” saw the concert goers bouncing around, banging their heads, dancing with one another, and joining in on chanting in celebration of the power of friendship. It was adorable.
Throughout the beginning of the set, the band faced a few challenges, the mixing took a few tries to get right and May Kershaw once left the stage for a few minutes, seeking a pedal for her keyboard that actually worked. While it definitely halted the early momentum of the set, it gave drummer Charlie Wayne and saxophonist Lewis Evans some time to test out some comedy material and speak their minds. Topics included the Denver Nuggets, as Lewis proclaimed that the band discovered their interest in the NBA two years ago, as well as peach flavored White Claws (according to Charlie, “they’re a treat”).
Technical difficulties and extremely dry British humor over, May Kershaw and the band launched into “The Boy”, a 3 part story about a robin, a mole, and a deer. She sat delicately at her keyboard, looking up as if appealing to divine intervention or a muse to tell this gorgeously textured, epic poem of a song. Band members not actively playing sat criss-cross-applesauce as May captivated them–her bardic ways almost created the illusion that they were hearing the story for the first time.
BC,NR played the vast majority of cuts from their most recent release of post-Isaac Wood departure live album, Live At Bush Hall, in addition to two new songs (allegedly titled “24/7 365 British Summer Time” and “Nancy Tries to Take the Night”). The latter of these new songs featured extended moments of Charlie Wayne picking his banjo, Luke Mark picking his acoustic guitar, Tyler Hyde picking her electric guitar, and Nina Lim (touring in place of Georgia Ellery) plucking her violin, all at the same time. BC,NR’s own string quartet was majestic, mesmerizing, and moody. It felt like a spicy, orchestral score for a fantastical mystery movie.
In the absence of former frontman Isaac Wood, bassist Tyler Hyde, piano player May Kershaw, and saxophonist Lewis Evans traded off the duty of lead vocals (as well as often building harmonies together). Each brings a slightly different flavor to the table, but all uphold Isaac’s wonderful but pained earnest delivery. Tyler Hyde delivered a poignant, vibrato-filled “Laughing Song”, her voice wavered as she lamented about never being able to laugh in the way she did with a former significant other. Combined with Tyler’s gently tragic lyricism, the band delivered an absolutely crushing build on “Laughing Song”, beginning with just flute and violin, reaching a climax of each band member seemingly going as hard as physically possible, and concluding with just Tyler’s voice. Lewis’ “Across the Pond Friend” felt genuine but forbearing as he crooned through a story of what seems like a very real relationship.
With six band members trading between keys, accordion, violin, drums, banjo, acoustic guitars, electric guitars, bass, saxophone, and flute (sometimes trading instruments mid-song), Black Country, New Road can feel huge, and maximalist, and orchestral, and rather dramatic. Simple moments throughout the set ensure that nothing ever feels excessive. Kershaw’s solo keyboard and singing work are delicious and never feel like they lack anything. BC,NR has mastered jumping between the big and small, the simple and wickedly complex, tension and release, and, most of all, growing and building from one existence to another. An ideal example of this is the 10-minute, absolutely colossal epic that is “Turbines/Pigs”.
As if they felt as though they had the make up for the technical difficulties at the beginning of the show, the band delivered an absolutely mind-blowing rendition of what is less of a song, and more of a metamorphosis. I don’t think a single audience member moved, or maybe even breathed, during these ten minutes, as we all needed to take it in and experience as much as we physically could. One of my biggest highlights was Charlie Wayne’s brutally relentless, creative drumming throughout the concert, but especially during “Turbines/Pigs”. Nina Lim’s violin exquisitely complemented May’s piano in the beginning, and Lewis’ spellbinding flute then saxophone added textures and layers to the explosion of instrumentation towards the end that felt incomprehensible. The song ended with multiple minutes of persistent applause/hoots/hollers, Wayne bowing his head over his kit, exhausted, and a single tear running down my face.
It felt superfluous that BC,NR immediately dove head first into another musical epic, “Dancers”, after concluding their last one, barely having enough time to catch their breath in between. Each of the six bandmates saw themselves cryptically shouting, “dancers stand very still on the stage”, as if they were warding off an evil entity that insists that dancers DON’T stand very still on the stage. Guitarist Luke Mark frantically paced around the stage as he traded off between carefully picking and violently strumming.
After “Dancers”, BC,NR (still not finished) jammed their way into “Up Song (Reprise)”, where they once again asked the audience to “look at what we did together” as the projections on the walls shifted to display BC,NR’s tour art. A full circle moment, that lyric feels different at the end of a set, as I saw what they did together right in front of my eyes, experienced big feelings because of it, and confronted the mystical sense of feeling overwhelmed by the power of music (and more than that, friendship). A testament to the art they have been able to create, both before and after Isaac left the band, the statement is the opposite of braggadocious, it’s celebratory.
Black Country, New Road walked offstage to applause that refused to cease, lights faded back in, and I felt as if I had instantly teleported back into the real world. I looked around at a sea of concert goers (many wearing black midi shirts, to my delight) hugging and giving each other wide eyed looks that said, “holy shit, that was insane”. Few concerts I have been to recently have measured up to the pure experience of BC,NR’s Meow Wolf show. Was it because I finally got to see a favorite band live? Maybe. Was it because BC,NR is a uniquely synergistic group of many extraordinarily virtuosic musicians? Probably. Would I still give anything to see “Basketball Shoes” live and Isaac back in the band? One hundo percent. But does this concert rival what I think that experience could’ve been? Yes.