Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY — Teenagers have shown us on many occasions that they’re capable of making fresh, exhilarating music, but that music is usually rooted firmly in an existing paradigm: hip-hop, punk, etc. Teenagers are students and students are formalists. One of the most striking things about Black Midi’s fresh, exhilarating, teenage music is its lack of an obvious reference point. It is at times reminiscent of Slint and their math rock descendants, and the funk-tinged post punk of bands like Gang of Four comes to mind as well, but these similarities appear to be more incidental than intentional. There are no straight lines to draw between Black Midi’s music and anyone else’s. The band is precocious, yes, but more importantly, their music is revelatory and confidently distinct.
One thing Black Midi’s music is not, at least to my ears, is fun, and the band’s stone-faced performances would seem to attest to that. So when their Bowery Ballroom show turned into a party, I was caught a little off guard. It’s not that I expected everyone to observe the proceedings in stillness and silence; I just didn’t anticipate being doused in beer and thrown around a mosh pit two seconds into the first song. The music’s chaotic energy and mechanisms of tension and release are strong, but they just don’t move me that way, and the crowd’s jubilation felt at odds with songs that are fundamentally chilly.
When a band sells out a 600-capacity venue less than a month after releasing their debut album, there will naturally be a lot of excitement in that room. But this room’s excitement felt weirdly compulsory, as if half the crowd had been bussed in to embody this buzz band’s buzz, to do what people are supposed to do when loud, anarchic music is played. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Public Image Ltd’s iconoclastic appearance on American Bandstand, when John Lydon absent-mindedly provoked dutiful shrieks of delight from a studio audience who were clearly oblivious to his significance.
Mind you, the members of Black Midi and many of their fans are less than half my age, so take all this with a grain of salt. I’m not here to impugn anyone’s intentions or begrudge them their good time. It was just weird to be so electrified by the performance and yet so out of step with everyone around me.