Black Midi Opened for Themselves as Orange Tree Boys Then Laid Subversive Musical Siege Upon Levitation

UK prog/jazz/post-punk iconoclasts entertainingly break the mold

Geordie Greep, Morgan Simpson, and Kaidi Akinnibi of Black Midi laying siege to Mohawk for Levitation 2021. (Photo by John Anderson)

Author Jim DeRogatis, in his classic book Turn Off Your Mind, called psychedelia “music that takes you to another place.” He elucidated by writing “making psychedelic art means rejecting rules, breaking down boundaries, and opening doors whenever possible.”

Those are themes Levitation has taken to heart in the past few years, looking beyond the borders of commonly accepted psychedelic trappings (some might say clichés) toward artists with limbs ripping through the envelopes into which they’ve been stuffed. In that sense, Black Midi is the perfect band to represent Levitation 2021. Conglomerating elements of progressive rock, jazz, post-punk and the weird worlds of iconoclasts like Pere Ubu and Captain Beefheart, the London band almost casually breaks any mold we might attempt to apply to it.

Black Midi at Mohawk for Levitation. (Photo by John Anderson)

After the PA introduced the band as if it was a boxing champion, Black Midi took the stage in suit and tie (at least frontmen Geordie Greep and Cameron Picton) and blasted into “953,” the opening cut on its debut album Schlagenheim. Like most of the set, the song’s all hard angles and clashing harmonics, with free jazz saxophone tearing its way through a vision of post-punk as speed metal, lathered with Greep’s matter-of-fact baritone. The Mohawk floor exploded into a pogoing, stage-diving mosh pit that forced the guitarist to declare “fuck off with that shit” before the song was over.

With even fans being unfamiliar with a lot of the material and alterations made on the fly, it became difficult to tell where one song ended and another began, especially given how many of their tunes switch positions like porn actors on meth.

That turned out to be the only sour note, however, at least from an attitudinal perspective. Tearing through a 14-cut setlist mostly made up of unreleased songs, the Midis were relentless in their pursuit of controlled anarchy. With even fans being unfamiliar with a lot of the material and alterations made on the fly, it became difficult to tell where one song ended and another began, especially given how many of their tunes switch positions like porn actors on meth. Even crowd favorites and second album highlights “John L” and “Slow” sound made up of sections that shouldn’t work together but do, like puzzle pieces jammed in place by a child. While Picton delivered his tunes with a sincere yawp, Greep intoned his lyrics like he’d let the voices in his head out to play, which made it impossible to tear your attention from him.

“fuck off with that shit,” Greep said of the crowdsurfers and mothers at Mohawk. (Photo by John Anderson)

Black Midi couldn’t do what it does without a high level of musicianship, yet everything it plays subverts the notion of musical virtuosity. Thanks to saxophonist Kaidi Akinnibi and drummer Morgan Simpson, there might be a jazz combo under the skronk screaming to get out, but to commit to only one genre per song clearly goes against the band’s grain. It often feels these days like it’s extremely difficult to find young guns bold enough to kick rock into the future. But with its ability to come off like a Max Stalling score translated into rock music, Black Midi finds a way to translate a very peculiar, particular, and personal form of self-expression into something with the potential for mass success, and rocks the fuck out while doing it.

Bizarrely, the band opened its own show in the guise of its blues rock alter ego the Orange Tree Boys “from Las Vegas, Nevada.” (Kudos to Greep’s spot-on American accent.) The Beefheart influence comes off more overtly with the Boys, as the first two songs deftly skewer the clichés of the genre. The “group” concluded its three song set with a surprisingly faithful cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” – which they claimed to have written, of course. A smart choice, ending the shtick before it got stale. Though clearly an inside joke of some sort, the OTB presented themselves as ironically unironic. Or is that unironically ironic?

Setlist:

953 - Schlagenheim
Speedway - Schlagenheim
Welcome to Hell - unreleased song
Dethroned - Cavalcade
Sugar/Tzu - unreleased song
Defence - unreleased song
Faster - unreleased song
Lumps - unreleased song
Still - unreleased song
Trouble at Ram Ranch - unreleased song
Chondromalacia Patella - Cavalcade
John L - Cavalcade
27 Q - unreleased song
Slow - Cavalcade

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Black Midi
Thundercat, Black Midi, Japanese Breakfast, the Hives to Play Levitation
Thundercat, Black Midi, Japanese Breakfast, the Hives to Play Levitation
Chicano Batman, Crumb, and Andy Shauf also top October fest

Kevin Curtin, June 29, 2021

Best of SXSW: Best Stage Banter, Best Show, Best Repeats
Best of SXSW: Best Stage Banter, Best Show, Best Repeats
… and other observations from Kevin Curtin’s notebook

Kevin Curtin, March 19, 2019

More by Michael Toland
Crucial Concerts for the Coming Week
Crucial Concerts for the Coming Week
An Antone's anniversary, Lonestar Unleashed, Country Willie Edwards, Rakim, and more recommended shows

June 24, 2022

Crucial Concerts for the Coming Week
Crucial Concerts for the Coming Week
Emily Wells, Dwight Yoakam, Sir Woman, Tony Kamel, Jake Lloyd, and more recommended shows

June 3, 2022

KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Black Midi, Levitation 2021, Geordi Greep, Mohawk, Orange Tree Boys, Morgan Simpson, Kaidi Akinnibi

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle