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Music review: Midlake, Williamson Tunnels, Liverpool

The great Texan musical hope goes underground for a happening that sold out months ago. We get Helen Clifton in on the act

Published on February 1st 2010.

Music review: Midlake, Williamson Tunnels, Liverpool

FOR a band who hail from Texas, Midlake's Liverpool gig must have been one of the strangest they've ever played.

The arrangements mesh brilliantly, the harmonies soar, and seven musicians clearly in love with their craft close their eyes in bliss

Cramped onto a stage in the bowels of the 18th century Williamson Tunnels, the folk rock band are continually dripped on by the dank moisture coating the walls, and a second smattering of snow on the city heralds their Saturday night arrival.

But they don't mind. "It's not the most ideal venue, but we kind of like it like that," says guitarist Eric Pulido. The strange and mysterious world of philanthropist and tobacco merchant Joseph Williamson would no doubt be ideal subject matter for Midlake.

Support act and fellow Texan Sarah Jaffe is all breathy recrimination and memories of relationships past. Her style ranges from bouncy guitar to strains of gypsy style accordion.

"If you're going to do it, you'd better do it right," she growls sweetly.

Pulido comes on for a song, the result reminiscent of some old style Tammy n' Kenny country and western duet. He asks us if we've been taking care of her. She doesn't look like she needs any looking after.

Midlake come on stage, looking for all the world like a modern version of The Band, all beards, sheepskin coats, woodsman chic. Their appearance immediately brings to mind Crosby, Stills and Nash at Woodstock, and Neil rocking in a free world. The only thing that's missing are the ponchos.

But Midlake are no young pretenders to the seventies rock crown. There is no posturing, ego, chat, bravado. Just the simple business of getting on with making beautiful music. The five-piece have taken on two additional musicians for the tour. As trained jazz musicians, Midlake's skills are obvious.

The set begins with three tracks from the new album, The Courage of Others. They sweep by in a haze of indistinguishable sylvan melodies. Then we get the title track from 2006's beautiful The Trials of Van Occupanther, the one that put them on the shelves of thousands of music fans who leaped on the album as evidence that proper music wasn't dead, that here were worthy successors to the legends of American guitar music.

It sounds fresh and pitch perfect. The arrangements mesh brilliantly, the harmonies soar, and seven musicians clearly in love with their craft close their eyes in bliss.

They launch into Roscoe. Its chugging harmonies swell and rise, and the audience, an odd mixture of hipsters, suburban dads, carefully quiffed musicians and trendy students, nod back their appreciation.

More songs from the new album. Rulers, Ruling All Things alludes to Midlake's jazz roots, with prodigious amounts of freestyle flute lilting above the gentle sound of guitars. Core of Nature is a rambling paean to the genius of Neil Young, deeply indebted to Southern Man.

The heartbreaking strains of Acts of Man, a recent single, soar across the stage. The Courage of Others is no great departure, but apart from a couple of songs, their sound is now heavier, less melodic, and definitely more experimental. Think Pentangle rather than Fleetwood Mac. OK, maybe Midlake have been spending a little too much time watching The Wicker Man. But although tracks from Van Occupanther arguably raised the biggest cheers of the night, I doubt it will be too long before the new album starts to sound as iconic as their previous offerings. The announcement of new track Bring Down was warmly welcomed. 'Do they have snow in Texas?' someone shouts. "We bought it with us," the band reply.

Head Home sounds amazing. Guitars akimbo, the band become energised, freed from the concentration required to play their new tracks. This is the best song of the night, and they know it. I thought Roscoe was the highlight of Van Occupanther, but live, their songs take on a new quality. Midlake praise the, “cool, unique, and odd” venue they find themselves in, thanking staff for their guided tour, before Branches, a haunting, mournful track filled with reverence, and a fitting end to a gig that somehow transported the audience to another time.

After the gig, I chat with James Best of Harvest Sun promotions. Founded in July 2009, with the intention of hosting gigs in some of the city's more obscure venues, Midlake are a pretty impressive signing for their first year. James is modest. "We thought we'd give it a try, and they agreed," he says. 'You could hear a pin drop in there, couldn't you?"

His mum pops over to ask where she can get her copy of the album signed.

Midlake have been around for 13 years. They are that rare thing - a quality band with longevity, able to rise above the concerns of commercialism. Their musical commitment makes them worthy inheritors of a musical legacy they are unashamed to admire.


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Poet OFebruary 1st 2010.

Excellent night in an excellent venue. Ta

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