Black Midi played Royale – 7/8

London avant-rockers Black Midi returned to Boston over the weekend to headline the Royale with support from Pieri.


It’s been more than four years now since the release of Black Midi’s mind-bending debut Schlagenheim and inaugural trip across the pond from their native U.K., the enigmatic group’s first real leap from the realm of regional and Very Online notoriety to the eyes and ears of broader audiences. An air of mystery still surrounded the band at those early U.S. gigs; who were these kids playing this punishingly technical and proudly weird music, sounding like visionaries in their first years straight out of school?

A few years and a few records on, having cemented themselves as forerunners of the new weird wave of British guitar music alongside contemporaries like Squid and their friends in Black Country, New Road, the band themselves perhaps appear less inscrutable than they once had. The music, though, remains unfathomable as ever.

On Saturday night, at one of the Royale’s patented early weekend gigs, the current foursome of singers/multi-instrumentalists Geordie Greep and Cameron Picton, drummer Morgan Simpson and bassist Seth Evans brought the oeuvre to life in uncompromising fashion. In contrast to a certain wackiness that’s accompanied prior gigs I’ve caught (cowboy hats, Harvard attire, carting furniture on stage, former touring saxophonist Kaidi Akinnibi wielding a pirate sword), this was Black Midi at their most unvarnished and direct. Short of a surrealist band introduction from Greep at the set’s conclusion, they were all business in a trip through the jagged, winding paths of their songs.

Whereas Schlagenheim and the band’s early singles channeled math-y post-punk, followup Cavalcade and last year’s Hellfire have seen them spiral out in denser, proggier directions. All sides were on display during the set, which opened with now-signature tunes “953” and “Speedway” before careening into the frantic “Welcome to Hell” and “Sugar/Tzu.” Absent the increasingly baroque arrangements of the records (including Akinnibi’s wailing sax from 2021’s shows), the quartet whittled down to the core dynamics of the material, maintaining the tension and head-spinning, maximalist release that makes it all so fascinating.

On paper and on record, Black Midi can read as a band best experienced like a demanding piece of jazz – something you sit with and mull over. Their audiences, including Saturday’s raucous crowd at the Royale, view it differently. They met the band’s technical thrashing with a sweaty fervor that was inspiring in a sense, given how genuinely out-there most of this music is.

Opener Pieri – purveyor of a reggaeton offshoot style known as neoperreo – brought an infectious enthusiasm to her short set, which continued a Black Midi tradition of enjoyably left-field tourmates.

Check out photos from the night below.