Let Me Entertain You: Midlake @ TLA 4.10.10

Early into their set, Eric Pulido, one of Midlake‘s four (!!) guitarists, answered a question that was on everyone’s mind but was a little rude to actually ask.  “This isn’t a rock show,” he clarified, “it’s a soft folk-rock soiree.”  With delicate arrangements and multiple flute interludes, that description was mostly true.  However, a smattering of rocking numbers and outstanding electric guitar solos led one particularly enthusiastic audience member to shout, “soft folk-rock my ass!”  For a venue that, not 90 minutes before the headlining set, was as cavernous and barren as the woods evoked by Midlake’s music, the TLA served as an unusual stage for this unusual band.  Philadelphia’s Toy Soldiers were the first opener, and their healthy dose of revival-inspired bluegrass provided the night with its most upbeat moments.  Singer-songwriter John Grant came next, and though his spacey songs may not have been as memorable as Midlake’s, he was no less enveloped in the hazy, cerebral world of his lyrics.

After a string of unseasonably hot days, Philadelphia cooled to a brisk chill just in time for Midlake’s musical permafrost.   Bringing with them the dirges and madrigals of their new album, The Courage Of Others, the band (expanded to a seven-piece) played effortlessly complicated music for nearly two hours.  The set began with “Winter Dies” and quickly got through a handful of songs from the new album before Pulido announced that they were going to do a few songs from The Trials Of Van Occupanther.  Since that album was the one that brought the most acclaim for the band, it was no surprise that this announcement was met with some excited applause.  In fact, the set only featured songs from the band’s most recent two albums, with their debut, Bamnan And Silvercork, not being represented, despite some audience requests for “Balloon Maker.”  So far I’ve mentioned Eric Pulido twice (now three times), but it should be stated for the unfamiliar that he is not Midlake’s lead singer.  That role belongs to Tim Smith, who spent the night switching between a seated hunch and a motionless stance.  His understated vocal style underpins each song with a subtle haunt.  This style pairs wonderfully with the somber tone of The Courage Of Others, which was played in its near entirety.

As that one overzealous fan pointed out, Midlake’s set was, at times, fairly explosive.  While the new album might be a little moody, a few songs from it (and from Van Occupanther) allowed the band to show off their musicianship.  An extended passage between “Bandits” and “Roscoe” made the eventual transition into the group’s signature song that much more of a treat.  A similar trick was used for the encore performance of “Head Home,” which could easily share the ‘signature song’ position alongside “Roscoe.”  Led by a dual flute line, “Head Home” combined all that Midlake had to offer: an aloof presentation of stunning song containing gentle harmonies and tremendous guitar lines.  Admittedly, I wasn’t sure how well The Courage Of Others would translate to the live stage.  It’s not that the album isn’t dynamic; it’s just more suited for a cozy cabin than a concert stage.  In spite of that, Midlake delivered a faithful and engaging recreation of their new album, proving that you don’t have to be showy to put on a great show.

Click the picture above to see more pictures of Midlake in concert!!

~ by E. on April 14, 2010.

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