Review and Photos – Black Country, New Road at the Hollywood Theatre, Vancouver, Aug 25 2023
This past Friday, the Hollywood Theatre in Vancouver was host to the opening show from Black Country, New Road’s (BCNR) North American tour. The English art rock band graced the stage in outfits that seemed to be indiscriminately thrown-together, and stood in a semi-circle for the entirety of the show. This made the set feel like a small gig put on by friends, rather than a highly-anticipated show by an already critically acclaimed and successful group.
Going to a show at the Hollywood is a special treat. The converted movie theatre still features vintage theatre seats, kept just along the edges during shows, and a nostalgic look and feel that longtime Kitsilano residents will remember dearly. Every show there feels like a community event.
It’s a wonder and a privilege that BCNR chose to perform at this spot after their critically acclaimed album Ants From Up There was released last year. They likely could have sold out a venue twice its size. Though the venue may have decreased the number of people who got to attend the show, it greatly enhanced the intimacy and closeness that permeated throughout the night.
The band, formed in 2018, is performing sans their lead vocalist, Isaac Wood, who departed the group just four days before the release of Ants. Because of this, and out of respect for Wood, they do not perform any of the songs they released with Wood—as in, nothing they’ve ever released prior to 2023.
If you wanted a sneak peek about what this meant, they did release a live album earlier this year that features their set list from shows performed post-Wood. But considering the success of Ants, it’s a fair bet that many in the audience, myself included, knew BCNR first and foremost from their back catalogue. This made expectations for the show more complicated than they would be for most other bands—and also more exciting.
This new iteration of BCNR now features lead vocals from three of its members: bassist and guitarist Tyler Hyde, saxophonist and flutist Lewis Evans, and May Kershaw on keys and accordion (sometimes at the same time). Sharing band lead duties in this way makes each song feel unique and fresh, with the common thread of BCNR’s trademark crisp instrumentation maintained throughout. When the keys, violin, and sax join together on the melody for a few bars to resounding effect, magic is made.
The setlist that BCNR put together for this touring era has ups and downs in terms of tempo, but never in quality. “Up Song,” the first of the show, starts off slow with just a sax and some vocals and quickly brings in the rest of the band. From the perspective of the balcony, the crowd became liquid as the song picked up steam, with much of the audience joining in to shout the refrain: “Look at what we did together, BCNR, Friends Forever!”
Almost every one of the band members is a multi-instrumentalist. Seeing them switch between instruments, often in the middle of the song, felt like watching high school friends experimenting in their school’s band room. Touring addition Nina Lim assumed violin duties in place of Georgia Ellery (known for being one half of the experimental electronic duo Jockstrap), and had a standout performance in “Turbines/Pigs,” a song which primarily features just keys and violin. Drummist Charlie Wayne occasionally switched to the banjo (as one does), and Luke Mark on guitar rounded out the lineup.
Even if this show hadn’t had a standout opener, it would have remained a once-in-a-lifetime event. Luckily, the crowd on Friday got to experience the beautifully lyrical New York-based band Daneshevskaya. The understated performance was the perfect lead into larger-than-life BCNR.
Even with their most popular songs missing from the setlist, there was nothing lacking from this show. Without a front person, the band took turns in the spotlight, occasionally taking a seat on the stage to let others have their moment. The audience was buzzing after the show, as they left twice the person they ever dreamed they could be.
More Black Country, New Road at the Hollywood Theatre photos: