The Black Queen Live at Nottingham Contemporary [Live Review]

Nottingham isn’t short on incredible venues. Whether it’s the legendary Rock City, or the grungy DIY feel of the Bodega, there’s a place for every band. It’s apt then that, The Black Queen should choose to play in the downstairs of Nottingham’s modern art museum, the Contemporary. In an exhibition room that is ostensibly the layout of a school sports hall, the low light levels create a foreboding atmosphere for what is to grace the East Midlands tonight.

Opening the show is musician/producer, Kanga. A Los Angeles native, the glamour of her presence fills the room. She lithely glides across the stage before contorting and compacting along to her crushing industrial electronics, before returning to her synthesiser to increase the intensity of her gothic overtones. Vocally, Kanga is not too far off the power of Debbie Harry or Patti Smith, with a knowing internal discomfort akin to Ian Curtis. With a light show comprised of strobing primary colours, the emotional heft of her lyricism is exaggerated to drag you into her world. It’s a one woman Nine Inch Nails show.  Schizophrenically jumping between fragility and liberated confidence, it’s a truly wondrous display. An absolute must see.

Conversely, Tennis System stand out as ill-fitting on tonight’s bill. Playing shoegazing post-punk in the mould of Dinosaur Jr., they don’t have the electronic element that lends itself so well to the venue. Their backdrop is looping footage of African and East Asian tribal rituals, self mutilation and pathology, and seems to have no additive effect on the music. It screams ‘edgy’. It feels as if this footage is simply there because other bands have video backdrops. Despite this, they remain musically engaging, but not enough to hold the majority of the room’s attention throughout.

Around ten minutes late, much to the chagrin of those commuting into the city, The Black Queen take to the stage. The trio open with Thrown into the Dark from new album Infinite Games. From the offset, their influence of Black Celebration era Depeche Mode and Massive Attack is starkly apparent. A monochromatic light show in front of the stage punctuates each beat of the electro-pop tune, and builds the brooding intensity that Greg Puciato so effortlessly exudes.

Ice to Never from 2016’s Fever Daydream, is the first song to inspire a grand reaction from the audience. Unfortunately those in attendance seem subdued, and this leads to some apparent frustration from Puciato, looking exasperated by the end of the colossal sounding set. This is irrelevant to the band’s performance however. Pitch perfect and without a single misplaced note, they sound incredible. Boosted sub woofers adorning the stage make the low end bone rattlingly loud. Equally,  the finesse of Steven Alexander’s guitar work lilts ethereally overtop without being lost in the mix.

Dancing and  hurling himself around the stage, Puciato reminds us why he is one of the greatest frontmen working today. With The Dillinger Escape Plan, we saw his testosterone fuelled, frenetic anger. With The Black Queen we see a softer and more emotionally investing side. Who would have thought that the man who smeared excrement on himself at Reading Festival in 2002, would reinvent himself as an enigmatic heartthrob of a  pop star? It’s a transition he’s made with ease.

Ending with the aptly titled, Apocalypse Morning, the evening crescendos in what could easily provide the soundtrack to a Cormac McCarthy film adaptation. The melancholic tonality perfectly matches the swathes of red light the room is bathed in, and is a final passionate burst for Nottingham to lap up.

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