Black Country, New Road made their U.S. debut at Bowery Ballroom – 9/5

U.K. post-punk-art-rock collective Black Country, New Road finally made it stateside for a pair of Labor Day shows at NYC’s Bowery Ballroom.

I’ve made no secret of my fondness for Black Country, New Road over the past couple years. Their debut For the First Time was one of my favorite records of last year, and February’s Ants From Up There seems unlikely to be toppled from my #1 spot for 2022. Their planned winter tour was one of my most anticipated post-pandemic shows, but you probably already know what happened before that trek was able to get off the ground. Frontman Isaac Wood, citing a need to focus on his mental health, announced his departure from the group, who planned to carry on in his absence in some to-be-determined form. The band eventually did start playing live shows again, with the reconfigured lineup debuting entirely new material that rotated several members as lead vocalist. The planned run of U.S. shows never did get rescheduled, but the sextet instead announced plans to support their friends in Black MIDI on a North American run, with a single headlining New York date to kick things off.

That move seems a sensible one. I can only imagine the pressure that a young and already feverishly beloved band would be facing on their first set of overseas shows to begin with, let alone playing a set of unreleased material in road-testing format. Better to hit the road with pals. I am glad that they opted for at least one headliner though, and that it happened to (sort of) line up with my route back from Maryland for the long weekend. This felt like a special one, well worth traveling for.

As it turned out, the show was so hotly anticipated that the band added a second matinee gig earlier in the day, so I can’t technically say I caught their first-ever U.S. show by attending the late one. Same day though, close enough.

And as the quick sellout(s) suggested, anticipation was sky-high for this one upon arrival. A line still wrapped around the block well after doors, and Bowery was absolutely packed to the gills inside. Horsegirl, a fellow band of buzzworthy youngsters from Chicago, kicked things off with a great set closely mirroring the one I saw them play in Cambridge last month, and had plenty of fans in the crowd.

Black Country’s headlining set, sure enough, didn’t feature a note of music from either of the band’s first two records, but that didn’t stop many an audience member from having familiarized themselves with the new songs via the plethora of shaky-cam YouTube footage from the European shows. This adoring crowd was all-in and the band reciprocated the energy, clearly having a blast even with some decidedly not-blast-having songs.

The new material isn’t far from what we’ve come to know and love about this group; the baroque instrumentation, cathartic swells, adventurous song structures and by turns winking and emotive lyricism still shining through. The songs feel different from the ones helmed by Wood, naturally, but in a sense of natural progression towards forging on as a collective. There are undoubtedly some stunners in the mix, and I can’t wait to hear how they sound in their finished state, whatever form that eventually takes.

The late show did get one bonus on the matinee: a loose and spirited Billie Eilish cover that brought all three members of Horsegirl back to the stage for a group singalong to send the crowd buzzing off into the night.

Scroll below for a gallery of both sets.