At the heart of black midi’s set lies a series of fundamental tensions: between the ferocious, driving drumming of Morgan Simpson and the mathematically complex funk riffs, between the jazz squalls from saxophonist Kaidi Akinnib and the self-consciously dramatic vocals from frontman Geordie Greep, between a punk sensibility of intensity and speed and the progressive rock sprawl that replaces melody with versatility. Like a contest of music styles that never quite resolves – at best slipping into chaotic facsimiles of improvisation – black midi’s songs ride the chaos without ever losing focus.
It is their recent album, Cavalcade, that provides the bulk of the set, emphasising the band’s tight precision and energy: it is only on the slower numbers that they flag, sounding more like pastiches of mellow interludes than a serious contrast to the monstrous freak-outs.
Kicking off with Welcome to Hell, the set repeatedly returns to its template of faux free jazz reeds, heavy rock guitars and almost psychedelic, repetitious riffs. And while the fluid racket is suggestive of math rock, a less mechanised Battles or even the more meandering numbers of Fugazi, there is a veneer of virtuosity and, thanks to Morgan Simpson, a consistency to their sonic assault that renders them more palatable and polished than their predecessors.
Although Greep’s vocals – and those of Cameron Picton who takes over for a few numbers – are largely lost, and the keyboards mostly add more to the volume than the complexity, the most disappointing element of the show is, sadly, the venue itself. With the acoustic nuance of an aircraft hangar, stuck out on an industrial estate and hampered by COVID precautions, Edinburgh Park isolates the band on a distant stage and Greep’s antics, which might be theatrical or intriguing in a smaller space, disappear into shadow. Yet the band rock as hard as they can, bringing enough noise to reach out into the cavernous wastes and provide enough evidence that, even without a pop sensibility or structure, black midi have the chops to bridge popularity and experimentation.