Midlake - Islington Assembly Hall, London

A group renewed...
Midlake

This was an important gig for Midlake and their fans – the first in London without former front man Tim Smith, showcasing new material from their up-coming record, Antiphon.

Yes, there was the show at Green Man a couple of months back, but this was for Midlake followers – the ones who love them, are intrigued by them, want to support them and even the ones wondering if they’re still Midlake.

They are!

The Texans open with ‘Young Bride’ and ‘We Gathered In Spring’ – two classics from the best known and best loved album, ‘The Trials of Van Occupanther’; eight years old, but as fresh as a daisy recorded and live. It’s a brilliant move by the band, showing they still have that sound that sets them apart from so many other folk rock groups, and they can rock their best tunes as well as in the old Tim days.

They’re all such proficient musicians, that there’s always a risk a Midlake gig can sound a little too similar to the records. Not here. As if to show they’re still who they always were, but also how they’re moving on into new musical territories, they merge and blend songs into one another and oomph them up a bit with new harmony arrangements, bigger percussion and more synths. It’s a subtle, yet welcome, psych twist on the old material.

“We can’t tell you how honoured we are that you came out and bought tickets so quickly”, frontman Eric Pulido says humbly, genuinely touched that there’s a sold out crowd standing before him (and that no one has shouted ‘where’s Tim?’).

This loving intro leads straight into new single ‘Antiphon’, big and bold, despite a slightly muddy sound in this echoey hall. The harmonies are huge, the percussion crashing and it all gels beautiful, giving an insight into the great new stuff to come tonight and in the future.

‘Provider’, also from the new record, is faultless and gets a huge reaction, despite being not that well known. It’s a brilliant song and really stands out as a step from old to new.

There’s a couple of tracks from ‘Courage of Others’ – the album that seems to have led to Tim’s departure and, while they sound amazing, there’s no escaping that dark veil that hangs over them. They’re all encompassing in this picturesque hall, especially with the beautiful woody flute fluttering around the melodies, but worlds away from the new songs.

There seems to be some tactical set list creation tonight – a good balance of the old and new, the crowd pleasers and the band pleasers. Following the lovely, but melancholic title track from ‘Courage of Others’ there’s ‘Kingfish Pies’ from the band’s early days when they were more synthy and Grandaddy-y. It clearly says ‘we are Midlake’ as they jump into the ethereal ‘Aurora Gone’ and ‘The Old and the Young’ – more excellent and huge sounding tracks from the new record. The drumming especially make these songs exciting and fresh.

‘Roscoe’ comes toward the end of the set, but doesn’t close it. It’s a brave move, considering it’s the favourite, but again suggests it’s not all about the oldies any more. Actually, it’s a little weak tonight, but still a blinder of a song. “That goes out to all you. You know why,”Pulido says. Weep.

The set ends with areprise of ‘Provider’ – an odd choice as a solo song when it’s not running into a big finish, but it’s still lovely, especially when the flute jumps in and the percussion crashes through the slow, meandering chorus.

Of course, it’s not the end, and the band comes back on stage for ‘Children of the Grounds’ and ‘Van Occupanther’, the first song where Tim’s vocals are missed. Closer ‘Head Home’ made up for it though, even without a giant harmony climax – huge, beautiful, Midlake.

Words: Gemma Hampson

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