Seven former Jazz students from Texas + 6 beards + 4 guitars + 3 flutes has the very big potential to equal ONE GIANT WANKY ‘DEAD-LIKE JAM session…but phew, not for Midlake.
From the second the amiable chaps poured on stage led by singer Tim Smith, and launched into flutey, hypnotic “Winter Dies”, it was apparent that this was gonna be a helluva lot more pretty and satisfying a Monday night than any ol’ heads-down noodle-fest. Even though the record-store clerk crowd offered free with purchase a couple of drunken dudes at the front of the stage who were one Bud away from yelling “Freebird”.
Midlake’s new album The Courage of Others sorta falls into that ever-expanding musical bucket marked “Beautifully Bummed Out”, but there’s a richness and a slow burn to tracks like “Acts of Man”, “Rulers, Ruling All Things” (with TRIPLE flute action!) “The Horn” “Bring Down” and “Small Mountain”…all of which were present and accounted for at the Biltmore.
This is a band who kicks the dirt around Jethro Tull, Fleetwood Mac and Radiohead, and in the past (and particularly on Bamnan and Silvercork) filled the Classic Alt-Americana hole that Grandaddy left. Yep, these are comparisons that exist EVERYWHERE, but it’s cos they’re true.
Ultimately, Midlake occupy a nice, if not terribly exciting, place on the musical landscape.
But factor in the slightly more quirky tracks from the much-loved Trials of Van Occupanther album, including the steamtrain-ride shuffle of “Young Bride”, the guitar-heroic lead-in to “Roscoe” (“Whenever I was a child I wondered what if my name had changed into something more productive like Roscoe”) and rabbit/fox/ox references on ”Bandits”, and you’ve got something special.
A Midlake Live bonus is the fact that the players can actually, well, play. It’s not easy to be heard above three electric acoustics and a lead guitarist but Paul Alexander’s bassline stitched in a solid groove throughout. And Jesse Chandler’s summer-fayre triple threat harpsichord/keyboard/flute playing (all on “Bring Down”!) was simply beautiful. And great guitar work, by, uh, most of them.
Plus, they’re kind of nerdly charming. At one point before heading into “Courage of Others”, Smith, sounding more hopeful live than on album politely thanked the crowd for “being so nice to us. Believe me,” he said, “ it doesn’t always happen”.
But what’s not to like? Certainly not the fact that Smith seems to have mastered the mother-hen-checking-to-make-sure-all-her-chicks-are-together look during the gig. Perhaps by watching his own band members it allows them to lock in more deeply and you know, jam, man.
And this time, I mean jam in a good way.
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