A surprising thing about Midlake is the inadvertently real (or otherwise) myths they seem to regularly generate. First, there’s the ‘fact’ that Bella Union’s boss Simon Raymonde signed them on the basis of a recording he heard – they had never gigged outside their home state of Texas, and Raymonde hadn’t seen or met them. Or so claims Midlaker Eric Pulido in a recent interview I did with him. Then there’s the lazy Fleetwood Mac comparison that is still churned out. Yes, there are one or two elements that spring here and there on their breakthrough album, The Trials of Van Occupanther, but bigger influences are undoubtedly The Beach Boys and the more pastoral elements of early to mid-70s prog rock, such as Caravan; influences that have remained throughout their career, pre and post-Tim Smith, the original frontman and main songwriter. Which brings us to the myth that Smith was Midlake. Tonight, one rather unfortunate member of the audience thought so, creating ripples of mild embarrassment on behalf of the band before Pulido himself politely pointed out that the venue had an exit at the back…
After Smith left Midlake, towards the end of making the album, the band toughed it out, started the recording process from scratch, and released Antiphon, a triumph for the band, and one that is perhaps their best to date. While the UK is where it really happened for the band and tonight’s show is part of an important tour for them as they attempt to fully recover their poise as a live band.
Tonight’s sold out gig (it could have sold twice as many) in the gorgeous environment of St. George’s Church, is a bit of a home from home affair. Brighton has always treated these Texans well, and they reciprocate the love with a well played set, beginning with two of the highlights from the last album, ‘Ages’ and the title track itself. Helped along by an excellent light show, and their eerily spot on harmonies, it’s perhaps no surprise that we get an extended ‘thank you and why we do this thing called music? It’s all about love…’ interlude which goes down well within the spiritual confines of the church…
There does however seem to be more vocal harmonies in their recent work, more guitar wig-outs and the odd appearance of the flute – pastoral psychedelia has taken more of a hold in general, but the music is still generally gentle, undulating, subtly complex, particularly the vocal harmonies.
Although Antiphon bears no discernible trace of Smith, they aren’t so daft as to deny the audience some of the better moments on The Trials of… and follow up album The Courage of Others, including their best known track ‘Roscoe’ before finishing off with the truly lovely ‘The Old & The Young’, a highlight from Antiphon.
Although at times it can feel a little one-paced, a little underwhelming, and the lyrics are at times impenetrable (completely so in the live arena), overall Midlake deserve all the plaudits they get, and are probably scratching their heads wondering how they turned from the Texas-based, jazz orientated Cornbread All-Stars to this, a cult favourite around the globe? Could there actually be someone smiling down on them?