Live review: Midlake at ABC, 22/2/14

_MG_2416Two years into writing their follow-up to 2010’s Courage of Others, frontman and chief scriber Tim Smith decided that he wanted to depart from Midlake and be left to his own devices (for more info search his solo project Harp).

From their infancy, the band has formed a sound around Smith’s vision, with a – sometimes-ominous pressure to yield – incrementally – more and more toward a canonical vision; a mold; a model; an idiosyncratic expenditure of Smith’s creative prowess.

Smith has a way with words – magically evoking images of seasoned navigation, woodland deities, druidic trackers, unforgiving terrain-sculpted precipices and the laborious outdoor workmanship of traversing icy-white depths with snow-shows – eliciting these vibrant and micro-descriptional images from a deep rooted conscientiously ascetic mind of a perfectionist.

The singer previously demanded a vicarious ownership of all that was integral in making the band – questioning the talent of the individual members abilities in the studio – akin to being the puppeteer with all fingers twiddling and tweaking all the characteristics he deemed fit and unfit during the recording process.

Smith, not content until these foibles were produced – accumulated an unhealthy rapport towards the end of his tenure – stood on his pedestal presupposing bête-carte-blanche; or in other words, an over sensed belonging of the bands input as his own.

Pressing times it must have been indeed.

With Smith finally leaving – and kindly stating two-years worth of material was deemed unusable – the band were stuck in a rut.

However, Midlake continued – installing Eric Pulido on lead vocals and acquiring new members Jesse Chandler (piano/flute) and Joey McClellan (guitar) padding out the bulk of the present unit – deciding to settle on a new sound by mere proxy of the freedom that came with Smith departing.

Almost a year later – with approximately six months to write new material, Midlake returned with their new album Antiphon.

The Texan sextet had a chance to unite again as the band they had originally started out as – before the regimental totalitarianism of Smith took hold – coming full circle creatively, but: also – with room for experimentation.

When initially announcing details of the album, the band issued a statement hinting that Antiphon would be a representation of what would essentially be a genesis of both: the musicality’s and the spirituality of their previous material.

So it is not surprising that the band kick-off the Glasgow set with ‘Ages’ – a seemingly curious tune to start with – which is most representative of Midlake’s liberatingly endeaverous evolution into the realms of experimentation.

As risqué as it may be, the sheer voracity and the instilled boldness of the new sound is facilitated with a confident conviction expelled from the band, and this ultimately paying off as a crowd starter.

The vestigial traces of ‘Animals-era, Floyd-esque psychedelic sarsens, with the simplicity of the acoustically strumming guitars complimented by Pallido’s echoic vocals sounding as epic as ever.

All held in place by McKenzie Smith’s drumbeats, which are haphazardly jostled by some randomly flamboyant drum fills.

Like a lot of the newer material Midlake mix some subtlety by the means of vintage synthesizer’s – ending the more progressive and almost structureless (albeit on first listen) talk-box-wah-induced guitar rampantly fuelled with soaking vintage reverb and murky distortion forever chasing the key of the song while trying to hit a distant melody.

It verges on a disordered improvisation that is blanketed live, however one might look at the missing link – someone to pull back the reigns – a harsh editor perhaps.

‘Ages’ is followed by ‘Antiphon’, which graces the front of the new record.

The track offers more of McKenzie Smith’s titillating drumming that has previously been a far more subdued affair and the guitar and synthesizer sounds evoke enigmatic echelons of get-up-and-go vitality pummeled with a controlled spontaneity.

This time unleashing the band from Smith’s controlling perspective, but in a much more balanced attempt compared to ‘Ages’.

The percussion on ‘Antiphon’ rips the venue apart with bold, psychedelic jams and ever-fluctuating patterns swallowed by unpredictable fills.

Pallido’s bruising melodies are softer and less droning that Smith’s and again there are melodious hints harking back to the very early Floyd psychedelic sounding Syd Barrat era.

The musicianship is unquestionably more relaxed and sometimes this verges on contemplative indulgence with guitar and synthesizer sounds that promise previously unplumbed levels of energy and spontaneity.

However, Pallido holds his own with the new material and that special connection with the whole band on stage is testament that he has merely changed positions in the hierarchical chain of command.

This is especially the case with ‘Aurora Gone’, which starts off with Jesse Chandler’s lovely flute playing and McKenzie’s dampened tom hitting and playful snare rolls, which allow room for the spacious vocals, including the fantastic harmonies which is an expose of the talent on offer – which excels on this track.

The best tracks from the new album are the ones that follow the same protocol from the earlier material with the more experimental tracks sounding like the tracks slightly warped stem cells taken from the back catalogue of Smith’s writing sensibilities’.

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There are triumphant moments of genius, which arise from Antiphon, such as ‘Provider’, ‘It’s Going Down’ and ‘The Old And The Young’.

The Glasgwegian crowd instantly warmed to the change in line-up.

‘This Weight’ is a triumphant return to form and it screams ‘single-material’ with its catchy-as-hell viscously-infections chorus – sounding like a warmer version of Minus The Bears’ ‘Planet of Ice’.

It is this perfect mix of old and new that really ups the ante and offers a lesson in perfect craftsmanship.

‘Young Bride’, ‘Roscoe’, ‘Head Home’ and Van Occupanther have the crowd magnitised to the primordial druidic, paganistic sentiments, which have that classic variegated and slightly anachronistic mixing – but classic Midlake sound – – of the flute of old, with the synthesiser of new.

‘King Fish Pies’ from Bamnon and Slivercork gets a response that can only be expected from the Glasgow crowd, and Pallido looks comfortable standing in Smith’s dolefully oppresionistic shoes.

The latter part of the set has all the perfect combinational elements of the flute, the glockenspiel, fuzzy and deeply resonating bass sounds countenanced with the organ sounds emanating from the keys, the crowd lap it up, and so they should.

Two of the standout tracks of the night are from Courage of Others including ‘Rulers, Ruling All Things’, and ‘Children of the Grounds’ and the fact that the band only play two songs from the album is an additive to the lyrical assumptions, that cracks that must have been surfacing between the band during the recording of the L.P.

Live these tracks are nuanced with dark subterranean cartelistic vibes of unsettling tectonic plates gently rubbing against one another and allowing for certain potholes of light to scupper and escape from underneath the dark and ominous underearth.

Between the branched coniferous forks of green pastiches of the scarce meadows and mountainous lyrical sentiments, it is a marking signature of Midlake mark-one.

It is two sides of the same coin when the band moves from one extremity to the other – two very different sides of the same coin.

The traditional Midlakian microcosmic pastiches of naturalistic phenomena and Terrance Mallick-esque philosophical dwellings are still imminently heard amongst Pallido’s lyrical flavourings.

Now there are seas of miscellaneous 1960s psychedelic influences with an airy breeze of the more modern bands, like Fleet Foxes and Clap Your Hands And Say Yeah.

And in the midst of it all there is the interfering sound of 70s rock harmonies with the traditional tonal qualities of the flute running throughout, accompanied by McClellan’s fuzzy electric guitar.

Ending the set with ‘Promise Reprise’, is a crash course in set-arranging tactility, sounding much more alike The Trials of Van Occupanther and Bamnan and Slivercork utilizing the sentiments of spiritual lyricism – singing about the old aphorism that there ain’t no atheists found in foxholes: “Provider, carry on; Far from the golden age; Follow me down a foxhole in the ground; Don’t delay”.

The band appreciates the Glasgow crowd, and the reciprocity is mutual, as the crowd has been blessed with some beautiful arrangements.

Apart from a couple of misfires, it is a bona-fide success.

More photos

Words: Derek Robertson
Photos: Jayjay Robertson

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