My head is a flaming 1998 computer with fans whirring and every time I hear a noise I want to catch those jagged soundwaves and catapult them away to Andromeda. I just got back from the doctor, and I did get a concussion after colliding heads with somebody at the Black Midi concert. This is not me looking for sympathy, but my concussion – as well as the destruction of my friend’s seemingly indestructible Doc Martens – just goes to show what a septic tank the pit at the Black Midi show was.
Black Midi is a chaotic band of many pretentious dashed genres: brutal-prog, jazz-rock, post-punk. My dad would probably call them ‘weird for the sake of being weird,’ and I would’ve agreed a year ago. Over time their arsonist approach to music warmed up to me with its redeeming qualities in mastery of tension and release. I arrive at the concert to see a fandango of “I Love Black Midi” or “Jesus Loves Black Midi” shirts. The most notable conversation I hear around me is also an alarming one: “I’ve heard Black Midi’s shows are louder than a My Bloody Valentine set.” As the lights dim, a WWE commentator’s voice hollers an introduction of the “world’s hardest working band,” hyping up the roaring crowd for the “super colossal heavyweight champion of the world: Black Helllllllfire Midiiiii.” The Verve’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony” starts playing and vocalist Geordie Greep runs out to that cinematic string arrangement in a boxing robe. The crowd goes nuts at the sight of this mischievous looking Englishman. Cameron Picton has a pair of shades on that shield his deadpanned face and a brain that would set music theory books to 451º Fahrenheit. He picks up his bass and the distorted notes overpower The Verve’s prerecorded opener. Geordie Greep grabs his guitar; the end of its strings hang off the headpost like a geriatric cat’s whiskers. The band begins their set and opens with a face-melting “953” at an unholy level of the decibel scale.
I look into the crowd from the photographer’s pit to see about ten or so people clinging to the barricade for dear life. Behind them is a sight I must point to Dante’s fifth level of hell to describe: The Divine Comedy author describes the river Styx as filled with people “in that lagoon… they smote each other not alone with hands, but with the head and with the breast and feet, tearing each other piecemeal with their teeth.” Maybe this is a dramatic analogy, but the pit was true chaos. During “Welcome to Hell,” I joined the pit to find that this was an obscure type of mosh. Because of the ‘stop and go’ nature of many Black Midi songs, members of the audience are given time to stabilize and stop to pant like dogs during the calm moments of many songs. I often see faces of friends during these 5-second pauses, but as soon as the mayhem begins again they are swept away into the storm of band shirts.
Painting violent impressions into the crowd like an evil Jackson Pollack, Greep stands villainous and postured in his buttoned shirt above the chaos. The WWE commentator’s voice returns at the beginning of “Sugar/Tzu,” a song that tells the story of a fight between “Sun Sugar, a simple man, cut from coarse cloth and Sun Tzu, seeking strength from a snakeskin broth.” The fight takes place on the impossible date of “February 31st 2163.” Greep’s storytelling is gilded in an eerie elegance, bolstered by drummer Morgan Simpson’s manic jazz tempo changes. Fans yell out every word to “John L,” the tale of a cult leader being torn to gory pieces by his subjects. The brain-rattling instrumentals and jargon are what I imagine the folks that took Woodstock’s infamous “brown acid” would have heard at a King Crimson show.
Cameron Picton trades his bass for a six-string guitar and steps up to the mic to perform his own Black Midi songs. Fans belt out every word to “Eat Men Eat” along with him. This is the story of two miners (most likely in love) escaping the wrath of their blood-drinking cannibal of a captain. Picton wails the words of the captain like he is possessed.
“You f*****g f*****s ain’t seen the last of me yet
I’ll have the last laugh, you c****, soon you’ll see
Each day you wake, and each night you sleep
I’ll be camped in your chests, burning! Burning!”
Greep looks at his drummer impressed, he flashes a grin and raises his eyebrows as if breaking the fourth wall. By the end of the show, the pit is festering with stench, human and otherwise. A whiplashed crowd bangs around to “Slow,” and the sweaty stew of fans throws their bodies and elbows with what energy they have left. People that were just at war with each other in the pit tenderly introduce themselves to each other as they babble about how wild the concert was.
After the show, I sent a cool teacher of mine a Black Midi song, I was curious if he would call it progressive-rock or not. To copy and paste part of a diplomatic response from the true prog-rock connoisseur, he muses that “Prog wants to draw you into a dreamscape of expanding ideas, but this feels more like a temper tantrum.” I’d agree, Black Midi is the corrupted child of a Yes and Genesis soundtracked Middle-earth, a corrupted child with an urge to commit arson and steal some magic sword from the Shire. As I write this article two weeks later and am still concussed, I can fondly recall that the concert was less a dreamscape and more like a self-aware nightmare in which you bear witness to some talented musicians spilling cathartic oil onto the flaming nooks and crannies of their mind.