Live Review: Midlake, Saturday, March 6 @ the Wonder Ballroom
While Midlake's newest record hasn't received the acclaim the Texas outfit is used to, 2006's near perfect The Trials Of Van Occupanther is a tough act to follow. In fact, had that been the only release of the band's decade-long career, its existence still would have been more than worth it.
But that's not to say Midlake can't pull off a riveting live show. Its newer material is more organic, propelled by the mystical wind of flutes and harpsichords. It's all quite earthy, which can be tedious and overly Jethro Tull at times but does lend to some very open-ended jamming. Seven touring members strong, Midlake produced a lush wall of sound which blurred the wide and unexpected genre line between Rock and Victorian.
Minus a few lengthy electric guitar battles on stage, the tracks from The Courage Of Others may as well have been written in 18th Century England. Tim Smith's therapeutic vocals match the band's languid melodies and old school instrumentation. He barely flinched throughout the 90 minute set, stuck in his familiar mold of peaceful professionalism.
The new stuff is less reliant on modern technology, rarely built on synthesizers or electronic riffs. Instead, it's folksier and more traditional—a better fit for Wonder Ballroom's raised ceilings and wooden rafters. Midlake even looked the part, heavily bearded and dressed in flannel. In short, the newer songs are less impressive structurally, but better suited for the live show. There's more open space for improvisation and it quietly relished the opportunity, tossing in some jazz elements here or wedding a pair of songs there (with a wrinkle-free, woodwind transition).
Much to the crowd's joy, Midlake snuck in a few hits from the past. It played a uptempo version of “Roscoe” and an extended take on “Van Occpanther.” With “In This Camp,” the band utilized its large stage presence, adding texture and body to a song that's already got quite a bit of both. Smith and company admitted that their return to Portland was “long overdue.” But considering Midlake's slow rate of record production and tendency to recess, most people are used to the wait.
And the wait makes sense—it takes a few years to reinvent yourself.