Black Country, New Road Brought Their Charming And Invigorating New Live Show To Desert Daze

Wilson Lee/Stereogum

Black Country, New Road Brought Their Charming And Invigorating New Live Show To Desert Daze

Wilson Lee/Stereogum

You know what must be a bitch? Performing at a music festival at the peak of mid-afternoon heat, before the sunset brings relief and the intangible excitement of live music after dark. You know what else must be a bitch? Having to come up with a whole new live set because your lead singer quit the band.

Black Country, New Road were faced with the latter scenario this year when Isaac Wood, a singer and lyricist whose outsized personality arguably overshadowed the young London’s band’s unique and ambitious music, announced his departure for mental health reasons just days before the release of sophomore album Ants From Up There. Undeterred, his bandmates carried on with their first US tour, playing entirely new songs. By all accounts, that tour has been a success, and it ended triumphantly Saturday at Desert Daze, where BC,NR also overcame that other challenge: playing under the oppressive midday sun.

Without Wood at the center, this band feels even more like a collective. Lead vocals were split close to evenly between bassist Tyler Hyde, flute and sax player Lewis Evans, and pianist/accordionist May Kershaw. Each of them plays a different instrument onstage, so everyone brings something unique to the table, including touring violinist Nina Lim (filling in for Jockstrap‘s Georgia Ellery), Luke Mark on guitar, and Charlie Wayne on drums. The communal aspect of their music came through right away: Opener “Up Song,” which toggled between stately baroque pop and revved-up Strokes-style rock music, peaked when all six members joined in a gang chant that began, “Look at what we did together!” The camaraderie continued when the band sat together at center stage while Kershaw took a solo spotlight during the especially epic new tune “Turbines/Pigs.”

The pop-culture-savvy-orchestra-kid vibe that has always permeated BC,NR’s music continues even in the absence of Wood’s references to Kanye West and Billie Eilish. In fact, they come off even more like a plucky bunch of conservatory students now: “The piece that she spoke about was a great piece,” Hyde sang near the end, “but I wanted to rip my ears out!” Each of the vocalists erred on the personal side, singing about heartbreak and longing in modern, plainspoken ways even as they conducted bandmates on stage and punctuated their emo crescendos with dainty symphonic flourishes. The new songs remind me of a range of artful and precious 2000s blog favorites: the anxiously giddy group singalongs of Los Campesinos!, the twee orchestrations of Architecture In Helsinki, the Renaissance faire splendor of Joanna Newsom. Their music can be grandiose, but they play it with a DIY scrappiness and a familial spirit.

There were lots of charming moments in this set where Black Country, New Road’s quirks came through, like early highlight “The Boy,” where Hyde played her electric bass with a bow and Kershaw introduced each verse by announcing, “Chapter 1,” “Chapter 2,” and “Chapter 3.” Or the part on “Across The Pond Friend” where half the band joined in handclaps and backing vocals while Evans passionately willed a lover “back into my arms!” None of the current singers are as magnetic and unhinged as Wood, but they certainly share his knack for melodrama: “What does it say when I have accepted that no one else will make me laugh like that – ever again?” Hyde pondered on “Laughing Song.” No need for such resignation regarding this band’s future.

SETLIST:
“Up Song”
“The Boy”
“I Won’t Always Love You”
“Across The Pond Friend”
“Laughing Song”
“The Wrong Trousers”
“Turbines/Pigs”
“Dancers”

Wilson Lee/Stereogum
Wilson Lee/Stereogum
Wilson Lee/Stereogum
Wilson Lee/Stereogum
Wilson Lee/Stereogum
Wilson Lee/Stereogum
Wilson Lee/Stereogum
Wilson Lee/Stereogum

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