There’s a surprisingly diverse capacity crowd tonight for The Black Queen, from rockers in black T-shirts to the more conventionally dressed. For all that The Black Queen subtly mix threads of industrial rock, progressive rock, synthwave and dark ambient, singer Greg Puciato’s knack for a spine-tingling lead hook and alternating melodic and driving synths clearly make for a danceable mix of left-field weirdness.
That said, judging by an overheard conversation, the black tees appear to be worn by those aware that Puciato also fronts Dillinger Escape Plan, that guitarist Steven Alexander and keyboardist Josh Eustis have been involved with Nine Inch Nails, and that the latter is still part of Puscifer and the sole remaining member of Telefon Tel Aviv.
Perhaps the most striking thing is how much the guitar is featured. Most of the pads and soundscaping are courtesy of Alexander’s stellar guitar work, which calls to mind the production and sound design techniques prevalent in post-rock and post-metal. During set closer Apocalypse Morning, Puciato even plays guitar for some rousing, percussive chord-work.
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The set is at its sharpest when they play the singles off their first and only album Fever Daydream. Secret Scream has most of the audience, regardless of T-shirt colour, singing along to the soaring vocals, as pulsing synths move the floor. Following immediately with darker ballad The End Where We Start, the crowd is rendered reflective before the band launch into the upbeat, almost Depeche Mode-inspired Ice To Never, which is then usurped by performance highlight Maybe We Should. Puciato offers the mic to the front row and you can actually make out not only the melody but discernible lyrics, which is a first.
The fans’ enthusiasm is rewarded with high-fives, and the frontman is in his element, stalking the stage and using the middle-eight to hop over to the bar to retrieve a drink. Though Eustis is happy to lurk at the rear, keeping proceedings rolling from behind a table of gizmos, Alexander also works the crowd: his power-stance seems out of place at first, but the creeping drama of the set, together with Puciato’s natural showmanship, allows it to slot right in to a confident live presence.
If proof were needed that pop music can be both smart and accessible, then The Black Queen provide it. With more than three decades of credibility accrued between them, plus exciting guitar work and razor-sharp hooks, the trio have a huge potential audience that’s here tonight in microcosm.