Musical Trickery and Subverted Expectations

By Danielle CloughSeptember 14, 2023

Musical Trickery and Subverted Expectations
BLACK COUNTRY, NEW ROAD with LITTLE WINGS, at the Regent, Downtown Los Angeles, August 31, 2023.

Ushers and security guards corralled me inside the Regent before Black Country, New Road’s sold out first show in downtown Los Angeles. The post-punk post-Brexit hexad from Cambridge was on the fifth show of their US tour. I was expecting to be dazzled and full of aggression and sadness, but the opener, Kyle Field a.k.a. Little Wings, tripped over stools on his way up to the microphone, in a very DIY, I’m-performing-for-an-attic-full-of-people kind of way. He was giving geezer with his fisherman’s hat, and when he made a poor attempt to remove his jacket, the crowd responded by chanting cheekily, “Jacket off!” He professed he would sing about seasons, then immediately proceeded to sing about owls. He mimicked their hoots, stuck his finger inside of his mouth, popped his cheek for percussion, and kept singing. It sounded like his molars might fall out at any minute. Onstage with just a stool, a nonalcoholic beer, and his guitar, Field brought me back to my off-campus coffee shop in college, as if we were surrounded by oak trees, even though we were only feet away from the industrialized un-lush parts of L.A. He sang “Look at What the Light Did Now,” which combines heavy alliteration with scenic observations, and while it was captivating and sweet, I couldn’t get past a looming question: how did a band as discordant as BC,NR decide on this guy to open for them?

When Black Country, New Road came onstage after the mouth-popping, the crowd cheered. But the band was just there to plug in their equipment. They walked right off, only to reenter to Miley Cyrus’s teeny bopper anthem “Party in the USA” playing over the speakers. The crowd was unusually silent, unsure if this would be the beginning of the set, but it was. This shuffling was reminiscent of a high school band concert. Casual and awkwardly intimate—even the little things about the show kept subverting my expectations.

Lewis Evans, the saxophonist and flutist and one of several vocalists, began their set with “Up Song,” introducing what could’ve been a drum beat performed on the sax. This version of BC,NR felt different from the desperation and romantic dread in “The Place Where He Inserted the Blade.” Co-founder and songwriter Isaac Wood, who evoked irony and sadness in his lyrics, is gone, and this iteration of the group alternated between depressing and somewhat wholesome. The musicians flashed knowing smiles while bellowing candid lyrics:

Did you exchange your soul with the devil […]
Look at what we did together, BC,NR friends forever!


The lyric tension between pain and joy saturated the performance. The intensity of emotion made me feel like a 15th-century peasant hearing an orchestral hymn for the first time. It’s refreshing to hear a song that doesn’t seem manufactured with TikTok in mind.

BC,NR creates this irreverent emotional whiplash. They navigate between ballads and instrumental cacophony. The band rarely resolved discordant harmonic tension until the final moments of their songs, and their keyboardist and co-vocalist, May Kershaw, played and sang nonchalantly even when the chord progression devolved into tumult in “Turbines/Pigs.” Bassist/singer Tyler Hyde’s vocals invoked the ultimate UNO-style reversal of self-loathing in “Dancers”: she shit-talks other women only to realize she is that woman. Their post-rock and pathologically self-critical roots evidently remain intact, despite the departure of Wood.

Midway through the show, Hyde recounted how their tour driver introduced them to Little Wings while on the road between tour dates. My confusion about the unlikely lineup faded. This was a group of introspective pixies joining up with a self-subscribed nature lyricist.

The show ended, and the speakers immediately blared David Guetta, Nicki Minaj, and Flo Rida’s “Where Them Girls At” overhead. The crowd took that as their cue to leave. In the crush at the exit, the realization hit me: BC,NR is fairycore. It evokes whimsical pixie-hollow–esque figures and demonic untrustworthy tricksters. They coat their songs with honey, while concocting riddles and imbuing songs like “The Boy”—a three-chapter allegory about a robin with broken wings looking for help from the animals of the forest—with the unfolding discovery of meaning through layered vocals. I left satisfied with the revelatory weirdness of the night.

¤


Featured photo of show provided by contributor.

LARB Short Take live event reviews are published in partnership with the nonprofit Online Journalism Project and the Independent Review Crew.

LARB Contributor

Share

Did you know LARB is a reader-supported nonprofit?


LARB publishes daily without a paywall as part of our mission to make rigorous, incisive, and engaging writing on every aspect of literature, culture, and the arts freely accessible to the public. Help us continue this work with your tax-deductible donation today!