At Their First Ever Canadian Show, Black Country, New Road Showed Vancouver the Power of Reinvention

Hollywood Theatre, August 25

Photo: JM Lacombe

Published Aug 27, 2023

It's nothing short of a minor miracle that Black Country, New Road played their first ever Canadian show to a sold out audience at Vancouver's Hollywood Theatre on Friday night. 

Early last year, mere days away from the release of their triumphant sophomore record Ants from Up There, BC, NR vocalist Isaac Wood announced his exit from the band in order to focus on his mental health. Such a setback could have crippled the collective right as they were reaching full stride, but they instead chose to forge on and reinvent themselves. Forgoing finding a replacement for Wood, the group opted to split vocal duties between bassist Tyler Hyde, keyboardist May Kershaw and saxophonist Lewis Evans. They discarded their old, Wood-fronted material and composed an entirely new set which was documented on Live at Bush Hall earlier this year. 

All this tumult thankfully did nothing to dull the excitement surrounding the band. The crackling energy in the room was palpable as BC, NR took the stage and launched into "Up Song," which functions as something of a mission statement for this new iteration of the project. As the song reached its jubilant refrain of "look at what we did together / BC, NR friends forever," it felt like everyone in the Hollywood Theatre was singing along, acknowledging joy and pride at creating and coming together against all odds. 

The set mostly focused on confident, muscular interpretations of the compositions featured on Live at Bush Hall. Eschewing the Slint-cribbing post-rock and klezmer inflections of their 2021 debut For the First Time, and leaning fully into the wide screen, maximalist indie-rock that they started playing with on Ants from Up There, the new songs exist at the bewilderingly affecting intersection of theatre-kid earnestness and drama, prog-rock chops and song composition, and experimental irreverence.

Nowhere was this mixture more potent than in a mid-set new song titled "Nancy Tries to Take the Night." Sung by Hyde in a glorious evocation of Kate Bush's ethereal art-rock, the song built from a classical guitar duet by her and guitarist Luke Mark — along with flecks of banjo from drummer Charlie Wayne — into a wild polymeter romp over Reich-ian arpeggio repetitions. Wayne, in particular, was a constant treat to behold, playing with inventiveness and shock-and-awe force, managing to ground these songs that sometimes felt on the verge of floating off into the ether. 

And yet somehow, the evening's most affecting moment was perhaps its quietest. As Kershaw spun up her gorgeous piano ballad "Turbines/Pigs," the rest of the band dropped their instruments and knelt on stage to fully cede the spotlight to their keyboard player. It was heartwarming to notice Wayne and the others looking on in admiration toward their bandmate. The audience too was rapt. You could've heard a pin drop between Kershaw's aching voice and her glassy piano chords had it not been for that one loud guy at the bar talking about inventing a breathalyzer app for your smart phone. Thankfully he was eventually drowned out by the song's devastating climax of riotous drums, droning bowed bass and guitar distortion — a feat which was met by the crowd with the kind of thunderous applause reserved for a third encore.

Keep in mind, this wasn't even the end of the set. The band seemed genuinely disarmed by the reception, but it was well earned. Black Country, New Road's performance on Friday showed that reinvention in the wake of hardship can be truly celebratory and transcendent.

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