Review | black midi at New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth: 'A perverse prettiness in the maelstrom'

The venerable New Theatre Royal is not the usual environment you’d expect to find a band like black midi in.

Friday, 26th November 2021, 11:54 am
black midi at New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth, on November 25, 2021. Picture by Chris Broom

Their unholy blend of noise, post-punk and jazz-rock is not a typical fit for a nice sedate night at the theatre.

But given that the stalls are close to full and there are a lot of faces up in the circle, there are plenty who want to see what it’s like.

The five-piece (the core trio augmented live by keys and sax) have long-established ties to Portsmouth – they played their first show outside their native London at the city’s Psyched Fest back in 2018.

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However, they clearly revel in the opportunities playing in a theatre, as opposed to a ‘typical’ music venue, affords them.

On this final night of a UK tour in support of critically acclaimed second album Cavalcade, they emerge after a boxing match-style intro which hails them as the ‘Super-colossal heavyweight champions of the world, black hellfire midi’, then dancing out from the back of the NTR’s deep stage to Tchaikovsky’s Theme from Swan Lake.

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It’s the first of several instances where their impish sense of humour comes out to play.

Mid-set frontman Geordie Greep announces mock-seriously: ‘We’re in a beautiful venue, so we're going to play a beautiful song,’ before launching into Andrea Bocelli’s Time to Say Godbye on a slide whistle, accompanied only by Seth Evans on keys.

Or witness bassist Cameron ‘The Machine’ Picton, miming the use of his instrument as a shotgun, ‘blasting’ saxophonist Kaidi ‘Casanova’ Akinnibi off the stage.

Or in the middle of John L, possibly their best known song thanks to extensive airplay on 6Music, they break down into the Blue Peter theme, accelerating as it goes, before switching back into the former single’s climax.

Or Akinnibi going walkabout mid-song and reappearing in one of the theatre’s boxes, still wailing on his sax.

The band’s stock in trade is furious, controlled noise. The squalling sax and the brutal riffing, nailed down by the rhythm section of Picton and the octopus-like drumming of Morgan Simpson, is capable of creating something quite transcendent. If you surrender to the sound, there is a perverse prettiness in the maelstrom.

But, it must be said, there is also something rather amusing about watching some audience members trying to head-bang from their seats during the more frantic sequences…

There is no doubting the capabilities of these guys as musicians – they can shift gears seamlessly.

There are also quieter passages where they could almost be a jazz group in a downtown lounge bar. Almost.

If there were any cobwebs lingering in the NTR after the lockdown, this gig will definitely have blown them away.

By the end of their set, that hyperbolic intro no longer sounds so over the top.

Support band O (not exactly a Google-friendly name, they are on Instagram as ‘O.the.band’) is a duo of Tash Keary on drums and Joe Henwood on baritone sax.

They apparently formed during the pandemic, have yet to record any material and have only played 11 live shows.

As Joe says: ‘It's a bit weird playing aggressive dance music to people sitting down, I’m not going to lie,’ but their hypnotic, funky, sometimes dubby, grooves go down well. Ones to watch out for.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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