Some combination of cool air and bright lights made Baby’s All Right feel bigger than ever – as did the lack of ceiling panels, which were likely removed during the venue’s renovations (though it’s more fun to imagine they were torn down in a violent mosh). Whatever the case, the small space seemed wide open, as if welcoming Blaenavon for their first NYC show.
The famed wall of ashtrays blasted a radioactive white glow, all the faded logos from casinos and hotels suddenly clear in the dazzling light. Before the headliners took the stage, Hazel English chilled out the crowd with some 60s-style surf rock, flaunting a relaxed stage presence and a Mad Men-worthy dress. The band’s washed-out, hazy melodies were fueled by clean, arpeggiated strumming, setting the Bay Area opener apart from other retro acts.
The lights were suddenly snuffed, and Blaenavon’s suspenseful start foreshadowed a strong performance from the UK rockers. Only their drummer, Harris McMillan, appeared at first, sitting down wordlessly and beating the set at a splintering volume. With a cool detachment that made them even more enticing, singer Benjamin Gregory and bassist Frank Wright soon joined him onstage, opening with the fast and fiery “Hell Is My Head.” Right from the start, they were really rocking, long hair swirling like a hurricane around each of their heads. And though it was their first NYC show, it didn’t feel like a first impression; many fans in the crowd sang along to every word.
It was thoughtful, provocative English rock, with heavy impacts and resounding solos that made their sound feel massive in spite of their size. They pounded through “Let’s Pray,” “My Bark Is Your Bite” and “Orthodox Man” with no room for chit-chat, just how we like it, letting the crowd get lost as they flew through their set. With his accented lyrics and deep, grungy vocals, Benjamin brought “Take Care” and “I Will Be The World” to an intensely good place – all while swaying, shouting, and throwing his whole upper body upside down.
With their wild shredding and petulant thrashing, the boys cooked up a stage presence that was hard not to love. If you could somehow take your eyes off them, you might pick up a few details. Their well-traveled gear was decorated with stickers from eminent festivals like Latitude and Leeds. Benjamin’s nails were decorated with iridescent nail polish. And with such a mature sound, the black X’s scribbled on the backs of their hands were the only thing that could reveal their age.
Blaenavon finished each song in a flurry of unruly noise, as if they were already sick of the last one and hungry for another. Closing with an unforgettably strong “Prague,” the three cut loose even more. The whole show culminated with Frank knocking a cymbal off the kit with the neck of his guitar, then dropping the guitar altogether to join Harris in beating the drums. It was an aggressive ending that sliced the night right in half; before show and after show. Too good for an encore, but too good to go home.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley (Blaenavon) & Omar Kasrawi (Hazel English)