The Henry Fonda Theatre. Sept. 25, 2007
Normally, unless the people watching’s especially good, I hate showing up for a concert at the scheduled time only to find that the band I’m here to review doesn’t go on for another two hours and is prefaced by not the expected one but two (count em) opening bands. Said opening bands which could have been skipped by this reporter. Said opening bands are normally not awful by any means and of course have their legions of supporters, shouting out encouragement. But it’s 8:45 pm and Midlake, the band up for review, doesn’t hit the stage until 10:45 pm, and I’m old and cranky and need my sleep. Ah well, my own fault, I guess.
All complaints are forgotten when the opener Wild Youth hits the stage. Led by a 14 year old girl and a band full of 10 & 11 year old guys flailing around on beat up guitars and keyboards, they run through a batch of choice covers, from Bowie to Band of Horses, much to the delight of the crowd. The singer’s voice might be waaaaaaay off key and all over the place, and perhaps the drummer is keeping time to a song being played somewhere else entirely, but it’s still a joy to see a band that you know is going to be a tight little unit in two years if they keep jamming together. Great, enlightening stuff. As one attractive girl near me mentioned to her equally attractive girlfriend, “They totally ruled the rooster.” Indeed.
Maria Taylor is up next, and suddenly there’s something in the room with us that’s been missing for awhile: vocal harmonies. Wow, where have those been? The songs are mostly midtempo but with a hell of a lot of heart and soul behind them. Heartland rock certainly seems to be making a comeback, since, during tumultuous political times, the real art comes out, real passion is heard and seen and especially felt. By the end of her set, Maria has totally won me over with her warm, confident delivery.
And so on to Midlake. The crowd is buzzing, not on drink but at the anticipation of this band. The Trials of Van Occupanther has been out for a year now, and their very devoted fan base has had that time to soak in its intricate harmonies and lush piano and acoustic guitar arrangements. Not so much for this reporter, but I recognize the opening track from the album, “Roscoe” dedicated to Wild Youth, as well as the second track, “Bandits” with its amazing 70’s guitar tone and solo. Sincerity is something I’ve heard associated with these guys, and it’s no lie. They play their songs like they mean them. And another thing: it’s so refreshing to see band members looking like guys down the street again instead of like rock stars. Rock stars are pompous, arrogant idiots who care more about themselves than playing real tunes. Not so Midlake, who harmonize together like mad fools and grin at each other as they keep time.
Now, it’s one thing for the band’s initiated to enjoy the hell out of a show, but what about those that are out of the fold, don’t know much about the songs and are outside looking in? As the set goes on, it gets a bit difficult to discern any melodies, but most of the crowd is rapt, not so much dancing but weaving back and forth. To the casual listener’s ears, it sounds as though the band themselves is having trouble finding their way through some of the songs, although new track “Children of the Ground” lopes along on a pleasant piano riff, and a song they wrote with the Chemical Brothers, the name of which was lost in applause, glides on the wings of Pink Floyd, accompanied by a sweet, gentle flute.
All in all, it wasn’t a bad night or an amazing night, it was just a night. Midlake is a band that certainly seems worth spending some time with, a band that’s doing more than just throwing out disposable pop songs with no sense of who their audience is. They’re professional, they’re enjoyable, they’re not really hummable, but most of all, and in the best way possible, they’re sincere.