Black Midi was perhaps an odd booking for Governors Ball 2023. The six-year-old British band’s quirky math rock and experimental rock was far more avant garde than the commercial pop, hip hop, and EDM that encompassed the rest of the annual three-day music festival. Black Midi fans who opted not to attend the outdoor festival instead had the opportunity instead to enjoy the band performing a headlining midnight Governors Ball After Dark show at Irving Plaza.
The late-night start of the show did not appear to dampen the enthusiasm of the fans. As Black Midi launched into its first song, “Welcome to Hell,” the audience appeared to be fully engaged and revved. Within moments, a substantial portion of the audience on the floor committed the wee hours to moshing, body slamming, and crowd surfing.
Black Midi’s performance fueled this animated reaction with its coarse, repetitive chord changes. Atonal sonics shifted the music with blunt force. Song after song, dynamic riffs and pummeling drum patterns acted as a sturdy backbone while a vocal melody line or guitar lead pierced the thudding din. Complex song structures swerved in diverse and frequently abrasive directions, seemingly chaotic but actually quite meticulous. Adapting elements from free-jazz deconstruction, Black Midi’s song arrangements were adventurous, intricate, and challenging. The music was not for the faint of heart.
Vocalist/guitarist Geordie Greep directed the musical traffic, while drummer Morgan Simpson was unrelentless as the band’s powerhouse ignition. Guitarist/vocalist Cameron Picton and touring bassist/keyboardist Seth “Shank” Evans ably completed the line-up. The set evenly consisted of songs from the band’s three albums, with no particular emphasis on the most recent, Hellfire, released on July 2022. Greep sang on the majority of the songs, and on a couple of songs he rapped passionately as if he was reading at a poetry slam.
While the music was serious, Black Midi’s performance had its playful side. First off, the staging included a bartender shaking and serving drinks throughout the show. Several times while the music was playing, the two guitarists and bassist would crouch and charge at each other, kick each other or play footsie. A day-and-a-half after the Irving Plaza performance, Black Midi was booked to perform a mid-afternoon set at Governors Ball. Would a progressive avant-jazz band impress many at a commercial pop music festival? Maybe, but Black Midi is building its own unique niche audience.