Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

A night out with Midlake

Warning: there are flutes ahead. Actually, there are two flutes ahead. But there are no lyres, lutes or harps. There are also no cloaks or hoods, just seven men playing sweet, serene of folk-rock. Midlake at a packed Vicar Street, …

Mon, Feb 15, 2010, 11:08

   

Warning: there are flutes ahead. Actually, there are two flutes ahead. But there are no lyres, lutes or harps. There are also no cloaks or hoods, just seven men playing sweet, serene of folk-rock. Midlake at a packed Vicar Street, then, was never going to be a Valentine’s Night’s massacre.

They’ve come to town to flog “The Courage Of Others”, an album which has received even helpings of love and hate. Influenced by band leader Tim Smith’s newly found affection for old folk tunes from the late Sixties/early Seventies, it’s an album which brings medieval wenches, pastoral rural scenes and tall ships afloat on the ocean waves to mind. However, as albums go, it’s more absorbing than instant, it doesn’t not contain highs or lows to truly capture your attention and the pitch and tone don’t really change from start to finish. It’s an album which does take time, but it’s still hard to know if it’s time worth taking.

While it was always going to be telling then where the Denton, Texas band would take these songs live, I reckon most of those at Vicar Street were there on the back on the slowburning appeal of previous album “The Trials of Van Occupanther”. The last time Midlake were in touring mode with that album, most of those who travelled to Thomas Street to swoon over songs like “Roscoe” had probably not yet got around to the album. It was a sleeper, an album which gained traction and sales and love by virtue of word-of-mouth appeal. This audience are here, then, to belatedly cheer that one and, well, they’ll also see about the new tunes.

To begin with, the band too seemed a little shy about “The Courage of Others”. Handling the new songs with the care usually applied to dealing with squalling infants, there was a gingerness about the opening number in particular which was interesting in itself – even the band, it seems, don’t quite know where they were going with these songs. Then, as if they suddenly copped that a couple of flutes, a keyboard with a panpipes button and four guitars could actually chime in symphony, they found a momentum which carried them up hills, down dales and away with the fairies.

Yet not everything has changed which is why Midlake soared on this outing. Remember that even in going back to a future of sorts from the ’70s’ soft-rock shuffle of “Van Occupanther”, they haven’t abandonded those perfect, perfect harmonies which they seemingly can call up at the drop of a peaked cap. Remember too that they can still write sublime, moody, fully formed songs which prove compelling in this setting. Remember also that they can still work the gears within their playing which can lead to transcendence. In many ways, they’re beginning to remind me of Wilco in terms of how the live show moves the band to another dimension, though I do admit it’s hard to imagine Jeff Tweedy giving us a flute solo.

But what was most noteworthy last night was just how well “The Courage of Others” sounds with flesh and emotion on its bones. I know I won’t be the only one digging that album out today and trying to find out what was missing on previous listens.

That show came at the end of a busy weekend for gigs in the capital city with both tUnE-yArds and Beach House also in action. I didn’t make either show due to other stuff so your comments and reviews welcome.

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