LIVE: Black Peaks @ The Brighton Centre

By Liam Knowles

Live streams are bloody weird, aren’t they? It’s like being at a gig, but you’re in your pyjamas, your beer is cold (and probably didn’t cost you six pounds), and your nostrils aren’t full of that unmistakable mix of sweat, farts and booze. Basically, it’s not as good. Is it better than nothing? Yes. Does it hold a candle to the real thing? Of course not.

That said, there has been a decent amount of hype around this streamed performance from Brightonian post-hardcore quartet Black Peaks. Pretty much every band lost one opportunity or another due to the pandemic, but this band rode into 2020 already reeling from vocalist Will Gardner’s 2019 battle with sepsis, an illness which led to the cancellation of several high-profile tours, only to be stopped in their tracks once again by the global situation that we’re now all unpleasantly familiar with. A lot of bands would have been broken by this, but Black Peaks have decided to make the best of a bad situation and give their fans stuck at home a reminder of what they can expect to see when the world is back to normal.

As the stream begins, the camera takes us on a brief tour through the venue, soundtracked by faint guitar swells. We’re guided up a flight of stairs and into the performance room, the emptiness of which is immediately unsettling. We then float towards the stage where the four members of Black Peaks are facing each other in a cross-like formation, doused in smoke and surrounded by simple yet haunting lighting. The swells gradually usher in fan-favourite ‘Aether’, and it’s immediately clear that a lot of effort has been put into making sure everything sounds absolutely perfect. Liam Kearley’s drum intro is as crisp and clear as it is on the album, with Joe Gosney and Dave Larkin creating a fluid yet driving atmosphere with guitar and bass respectively. Will Gardner’s vocals are on-point as always, some of the high notes in this particular song feel impossible and yet he hits them effortlessly. From seeing just this one song played, it is evident that Black Peaks are a truly special band.

The quality of the performance starts high, and it remains high throughout. Not a single song is executed less-than-perfectly, from obvious inclusions like ‘Home’ and ‘Can’t Sleep’ to more obscure numbers like ‘King’, which the band have only played live once before. That said, there are a couple of clear highlights. Firstly, ‘Saviour’ is an absolute masterpiece, particularly the back half of the song where Black Peaks manage to somehow channel both Mastodon and The Dillinger Escape Plan at the same time. Joe Gosyney’s spidery riffs combined with the military precision of the rhythm section would leave even the most accomplished musician baffled. Following that, ‘Say You Will’ is utterly jaw-dropping, mostly down to Will Gardner’s otherworldly vocal range – how that man can cover a good few octaves of clean singing, then switch immediately to piercing high screams, guttural lows and everything in between… it simply defies explanation. It’s one thing to hear it on the record, but to see him do it live is something else entirely. If there’s a better alternative vocalist in the UK right now, they’re yet to show themselves.

Unfortunately the visuals of the stream are not up to the same standard as the performance itself. While it has clearly been filmed by professionals, and carries the same high-definition sheen that we’ve seen from much bigger bands doing similar things, the fact remains that there isn’t much to look at for the 55 minute runtime. The sparse stage lighting does look cool, but it never really changes and it simply isn’t enough to distract from the band’s relatively static positions. The only real changes we get are the regular pans out to the empty hall, which don’t really achieve anything other than reminding us that we’d all rather be at a real gig. Perhaps if the songs had been broken up by interviews with the band, or behind the scenes footage, or interesting visuals of some kind, then it wouldn’t have felt quite so much like watching the same music video for an hour, but unfortunately that’s exactly what it felt like.

Black Peaks are unquestionably a special and inspiring band. You’d struggle to name another outfit, particularly at their level, who have so perfectly straddled the line between experimental and accessible. They draw from a vast palette of influences, and successfully meld those influences whilst always retaining a sound that is very much their own. But their true strength lies in the atmosphere they create at their shows, their synergy with the audience and their ability to feed off the energy emanating from the crowd in front of them. Without that, you’re not truly getting the magnificence of the authentic Black Peaks experience. If this stream was your first taste of seeing this band live, there’s no doubt you will have been impressed, but believe this: you’re going to be awestruck when you see them in the flesh.