Those of us attending either of the sold-out Black Country, New Road shows at the Sinclair this past weekend pretty much knew what we were in for even though most of us had never seen the English band in person. As has been well documented, the band stopped playing live versions of songs recorded before former frontman Isaac Wood left last year for mental health reasons, and produced a new set of songs released earlier this year on a live album. It’s those songs, plus a couple more, that the band has been playing on its first big U.S. tour, and some of us had to retrain our brains to grasp and embrace this edition of BCNR.
This ensemble, featuring a keyboardist, violinist, drummer, bass, guitar, and sax/flute player, with rotating vocalists, is otherwise challenging to describe. Maybe the best I’ve seen is that BCNR plays fairycore—no one in the audience would have been fazed if an elf or hobbit zipped across the stage.
Not that this is a completely precious outfit. Their offerings in a just-over-an-hour, 10-song set ranged from bouncy to melancholy to dreamy, with plenty of flourishes combining different instrument mixes.
The all-ages crowd was hushed at points throughout the show, especially when keyboardist and accordion player May Kershaw led on vocals and hit high notes, such as on the 3-chapter fairytale song called “The Boy.” During “Turbines/Pigs” (“Don’t waste your pearls on me/I’m only a pig…”), most of Kershaw’s band mates huddled without their instruments as if around a campfire, before going full-on jam to end the longest song of the concert with a flute and more.
At other times, the room got excited and a bit silly, like when sax player Lewis Evans ambled through his big number, “Across the Pond Friend.”
Evans did the honors early of introducing his bandmates.
Sporting what appeared to be a newly acquired Harvard hat, he also pandered to the crowd with a “Can I get a quick F— Yale?”—not that many of us were necessarily Crimson faithful. He also assured us that we were his favorite crowd of the two that would fill the Sinclair for that day’s doubleheader (did he tell the nighttime crowd the same thing?).
The crowd got a bit giddy later on, during a violin sound check, with someone shouting out “Happy prom night!”—a reference to a shout-out from the band’s current “Live at Bush Hall” album.
BCNR is one of the most interesting bands I’ve seen of late simply because the players constantly shift roles and instruments. The drummer cameoed with a banjo, Kershaw sometimes played with an accordion on her lap, but also reached around to hit the keyboard. Bassist Tyler Hyde handled the majority of vocals, including on buoyant opener “Up Song,” in which the band celebrates their accomplishments as a group, and on the self explanatory “I Won’t Always Love You,” going acoustic, then accompanied by her bandmates one by one to finish strong.
— swellesley (@swellesley) September 22, 2023
Hyde complimented us on being “really nice,” and promised the band would be back in these parts. What version of BCNR we’ll get next, who knows?
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