There is something a touch religious about this evening, and it’s not just the stained glass windows.
As devoted followers of live music gather amongst the pews in Hackney Church, and the chords of an organ can be heard filling the auditorium, there is a tangible sense of the divine amongst the congregation.
It feels like it was written in the stars for black midi’s return to live music to be carried out in this specific fashion. Perhaps it’s the way in which their songs are delivered with biblical levels of otherworldly metaphor and mythology. Or perhaps it’s because – after the monumental acclaim that their oddball debut album, Schlagenheim, received – this feels somewhat like the return of a prodigal son.
As black midi take to the stage, collectively dressed in various pieces of chef attire, they open with a larger-than-life rendition of the Twentieth Century Fox jiggle, to rapturous applause from an assembly who have seen the light for the first time in fourteen long months.
Currently operating as a 3-piece (with additional touring members Seth Evans on keys and Kaidi Akinnibi on sax), the Londoners don’t overindulge the applause and set off with intent.
Upon launching into ‘John.L’, from this week’s Cavalcade album, a year of impotence is alleviated in moments and black midi hold no bars in personifying the frantic energy captured on their LPs; engulfing the auditorium in a wall of sound. The chaotic riffery of ‘John.L’ is jarringly juxtaposed with sharp pauses, which are met with ‘woops’ from an audience who are exuding as much energy as possible from a sea of people who are bolted to their seats in compliance with the ‘rona rules.
Utilising the vast church stage in a flat-5 formation, the band characteristically lead the listener down sonic cul-de-sacs and digressions throughout the set. Unlike the candle-lit jazz clubs of Soho, where one might meander through these avenues, black midi drag the listener through the performance in a deranged sprint.
This hybrid between the chin-stroking unpredictability of jazz, and the balls-to-the-wall pandemonium of heavy rock is the catalyst for black midi’s charm. As far removed from the traditional world of pop music as it’s possible to be, the unrestrained energy and purity of emotion in their performances has piqued the interest of fans and critics alike; at best, infatuating the listener, at worst, intriguing them.
Frontman Georgie Greep writhes on the floor, clutching his disproportionately large guitar to his torso, personifying the hyperactive energy of the band’s two albums; both of which are represented throughout the performance.
Breaks in the set are few and far between. Tracks mutate into one another, growing new limbs and frothing at the mouth during the transition, and sporadic moments of respite are met with a euphoric reception from the pews. An instrumental rendition of ‘The Sailor’s Hornpipe’ (the accordion tune that often accompanies sailor scenes in cartoons) gives proceedings an opportunity to compose itself. Before drummer Morgan Simpson raises the tempo and volume of the track to the point where it reaches a chaotic crescendo in-keeping with the rest of the performance.
As would predictably be the case when such a cavernous room hosts an act which boasts such musical intricacy, the sound that fills Hackney Church is far from razor-sharp. What the sound lacks in crispness, however, is compensated in abundance by the energy of the performance from the possessed bodies on stage, which is, in turn, graciously received by the congregation.
Amen to the return of live music for one of the country’s most fascinating artists. This is religion, just not as we know it.