Friday, April 13, 2007

Midlake live in Brighton

It's always interesting, we were saying last night, to observe which songs bands choose as their intro music when they play live - it tells you a lot about them. So when we standing, overheating at the front in Brighton's Concorde 2 last night, waiting for Midlake to come on stage, we were entitled to feel a bit uncertain when the intro music made us argue over whether we were listening to Billy Joel or not. Much fun has been poked at the Texan indie-rockers for their AM-radio flecked vibe, and while references to Fleetwood Mac and REO Speedwagon are contrived, there's a lot of Steely Dan or, as Dustin pointed out, the Alan Parsons Project in their wistful, organic rock, as well as nods to hipper reference points like Neil Young, Radiohead and Grandaddy.

On record, they are delicate and introspective, so it's no surprise to find that their live show is measured and unshowy, save for a video projector and a bank of analogue keyboards that had me and Anne-Sophie purring and craning our necks. The band themselves were bearded, dressed for winter and quietly enigmatic, swapping instruments and each contributing sweeping vocals. Midlake are a band of considerable genius because they quietly navigate a different route through the warm sounds of soft rock, setting themselves apart with stunning harmonies and buzzing synthesisers, creating a sound which is somehow nostalgic, forlorn and celebratory, without sounding retro.

Their best songs were, last night, a real delight - it remains hard to pick out a better, more beautiful song in recent years than 'Roscoe', and 'Head Home' and particularly 'Young Bride', which rides a dazzling drumbeat, sounded lovely. Old songs fitted in just as well, showcasing a more analogue sound - in fact 'I Guess I'll Take Care' was fuelled entirely by vintage synths until Paul Alexander - complete with cap and Johnny Depp moustache - switched back to his bass. 'Balloon Maker' is one of their more recognisable songs, but suffers from comparisons; it sounds too much like a Flaming Lips song. A new song, however, which was very beautiful, more than made up for that.

Oddly, for a band who summon up all these references, Midlake are great because they sound like they have arrived at their sound completely organically, and it's perhaps instructive that they started out as students of jazz. More pleasingly - this is something I care more about as I get older - they were lovely guys, happy to stand around chatting and signing stuff afterwards. Dan, in particular - who grew a Midlake-inspired beard to commemorate the arrival in Brighton of his heroes - was grinning and sighing with satisfaction as the evening ended and we sat knocking back a post-gig beer in The Belle Vue, happy that he had successfully completed a long-term project of converting his friends to the Midlake cause. Mission accomplished.

Dan in a moment of Midlake-enduced bliss

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