Concert review: black midi | 06.28.23, Red Flag (with photo gallery)

Photo of black midi live at Red Flag by Bryan Sutter

w/ Circuit des Yeux

black midi’s 2022 release Hellfire is an impressive chunk of music. There is more raw creativity and wit contained within its ten tracks than some bands can muster in a whole ass career. There’s a dizzying amount of references and bits of inspiration that point inward and outward, that to chart them on a board would no doubt trigger a light in some musty corner of an FBI office. The music on Hellfire reminds of what my high school music theory teacher would play for us to challenge our notions on what good or enjoyable music could be. It makes you sit upright, and begs you to ponder not just what it puts in front of you, but the periphery of the world it creates in a way that compels me to draw a comparison to the works of the long defunct local band Jumbling Towers.

For this to be a guilty pleasure, you would have to think there is something decadent about smiling when you’re happy. It is the future, it is the past, it is like if the KLF wore corduroy.

I don’t really take black midi as the sort of act that St. Louis would show up for, and I was worried what attendance would look like. However, as I arrived at Red Flag, I was very surprised to see a very healthy line stretching a respectable way down the block. I wasn’t the only person that was amazed by this, as one car slowed down and a man asked me, “Is this the line?” like his mind had just been blown by the taste of a previously unknown flavor of ice cream.

Even as Chicago’s Circuit des Yeux graced the stage (and the photo pit) with an evocative performance, people were still filtering in. While I was among those in attendance that couldn’t put an exact finger on what they saw in front of them, the solo artist definitely had the attention of the growing crowd. Her powerful vocal performance and spooky vibes ensured that by the end of her set she most certainly had quite a few more fans.

As the moment drew near for black midi’s performance, the energy in the room was undeniable. The crowd was skewed on the younger side, and they were very hungry for weird avant-garde jazz punk. Someone led the crowd in a chant, and then the lights dimmed. The Londoners took the stage to a pop that made me glad I had ear plugs.

And then we were off.

What followed was a glorious performance that felt like you were being let in on a precious secret for a select few. Guitarist/vocalist Geordie Greep sang with an affectation that felt hard to place, an old timey croon plucked from its origin like an aesthetic flare from a Wes Anderson film. You could watch drummer Morgan Simpson all night and not be bored, as he sat behind his kit like both a master of his craft and an untamed talent. The band’s other guitarist Cameron Picton, who may or may not have been intentionally dressed as Neal Gamby from HBO’S Vice Principals, provided one of the best moments of the evening as he took lead on “Still,” one of the more reserved tracks on Hellfire. The fingerstyle guitar and his wistful, subtle singing provided a poignant contrast to more percussive and bombastic songs like “27 Questions” and “Welcome to Hell.” It is not hard to see how black midi has earned their shining reputation as one of the most interesting and exciting acts of the last few years. | Bryan Sutter

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