This review is likely to be quite biased! I hold my hands up to being a big fan of Texan indie/folk rockers, Midlake but I’ll try to be to be as constructive as I can. Tonight’s gig at the Town Hall in Birmingham is part of Midlake’s tour in promotion of their third album, ‘The Courage of Others’. The album is their first in four years after their breakthrough release, ‘The Trials of Van Occupanther’ in 2006.
Tonight’s support act and ‘good friend’ (also from the same town in Texas apparently) of Midlake, Sarah Jaffe, performed pleasant country tinged indie tunes and for one number was joined on stage by Midlake’s Eric Pulido for a cover of Loudon Wainwright song, ‘One Man Guy’. It was all quite, well, pleasant. Nothing to get too excited about but the sound was good and the audience seemed happy.
The Town Hall, a Grade 1 listed building, is a brilliant setting for this type of gig. It gives the gig a special edge seeing the band perform in front of the halls gigantic spectacular organ. The band even joked that they would book the venue again in the future in an attempt to use the organ.
The sound throughout the gig was absolutely spot on. Midlake are a band that use a variety of instruments on stage. My girlfriend calls their sound ‘pixie in the woods music’ but it’s all meant in a positive way. Midlake do conjure up images of woodland — fact. Their heavy use of the flute, sometimes even two flutes, recorders, harpsichord and with four guitars all going at once during most songs you might think certain sounds are drowned out. Not all, in fact the band are entirely in sync with other at all times. Although the bands front man, Tim Smith, has a very distinctive, effortless voice, this is complimented really well by the backing vocals of Eric Pulido. It was only when Eric Pulido joined Sarah Jaffe onstage earlier in the evening that I realised how strong his voice is and appreciated how this all fits together in the greater Midlake sound.
One thing about the set that did stand out was the guitar solos which saw the band really let themselves go. With the volume turned up and some classic rock drumming from MacKenzie Smith a whole new genre of ‘pixie metal’ was born.
From a set that mostly contained songs from the new album there were still a healthy selection from their previous album such as ‘Van Occupanther’, ‘Roscoe’, ‘Young Bride’ and the fantastic ‘Head Home’. These older songs have obviously been played for years but even the newer ones seemed to come so naturally to the band and I personally was gripped for the entire performance. The newer songs from, ‘The Courage of Others’ would not be to everyone’s liking as they are pretty dark and not as upbeat as their older songs but I enjoyed seeing them performed live. ‘Rulers, Ruling All Things’ and ‘Small Mountain’ were particularly atmospheric.
I had seen Midlake in 2007 and have consistently listened to their music since then so my expectations for tonight were fairly high and I wasn’t disappointed. The band thanked the audience and you could tell they were genuinely appreciative of the turn out and even complimented them on having a ‘beautiful town’. The venue was pretty much full and the band weren’t allowed to leave without coming back to the stage for the encore of ‘Branches’.
Overall, great venue, helpful venue staff and a fantastic performance from the headliners. Thumbs up!
Review Chris Thompson
Photos John Bentley