Noise Pop is an institution in San Francisco, and though I'm not its biggest booster these days, I try to make it to a show or two each year. This time round, Midlake lured me away from my usual musical obsessions and reminded me why I need to check out gigs by up-and-coming bands in the first place.
Midlake, Bottom of the Hill, March 4, 2007: Chief among the likely culprits for my estrangement with Noise Pop: the exhausting roster of opening bands. If I were a reasonable person, I'd show up much later and save myself the trouble of rickety knees, potentially bleeding eardrums, and a compromised attention span. But as anyone who's followed these concert dispatches can tell you, I simply can't do that. Besides, Noise Pop has exposed me to some terrific opening bands I may have otherwise missed, including Beulah (sharing a bill with Guided by Voices) and the band of the hour, Midlake, who dropped by last year with the Flaming Lips.
For me at least, Midlake came out of nowhere that night at Bimbo's. There were no preconceived notions to bat aside; there was no hipster buzz to consider. We concerned ourselves with only the music and the show, and in those regards, they delivered. Though the music bore major references to sounds that came before, it definitely wasn't trying to be the flavor of the day. Instead, they incorporated the timeless qualities that more often than not win me over: a wealth of both melody and harmony, strong musicianship, and artful arrangements, with a healthy dollop of earnestness and longing thrown in.
In turn, these tunes seemed well matched to the movies running in the background; perhaps the songs' lack of irony kept the films from coming across as pretentious or laughable. Regardless, I clearly felt that we were getting the whole package. It certainly didn't feel like Midlake intended to be a flash in the pan.
Cut to a year later, and Midlake has released its second album, earned glowing reviews all over the blogosphere as well as in the U.K. music press, and toured Europe at least twice, with another round of Continental dates scheduled for this spring. Lucky for us, they finally managed to swing by their native States as well. In San Francisco at least, they were rewarded with a sold-out show at Bottom of the Hill.
Unlike last year, I obviously had some expectations before the show began. For one, I've spent a good deal of time with The Trials of Van Occupanther, and I had some context for the songs now. And naturally, I was just curious to see how they handled their success.
The short answer: they seemed to take it on pretty well. Success in the indie rock world is such a relative term; no one in the band's buying Bentleys and grillz just yet. This being Bottom of the Hill, they still set up their own equipment--no biggie there.
They opened with a slow build of "We Gathered in Spring" and proceeded to hit nearly every song from The Trials of Van Occupanther, including the "hits"--well, the anthems: "Roscoe" and "Young Bride," the latter riding on a bass line that made for an especially sultry and hypnotic effect. We got a couple tracks from the first album ("Balloon Maker" and "Some of Them Are Superstitious") and a new tune ("Children of the Ground"), still in progress. The new song showed traces of the influences I cite far too often when it comes to Midlake, so I thank Julie for pointing out the tinge of the Allman Brothers in the sound too.
They played with a quiet confidence, betraying no sign of nerves, and as befits a band who's been touring so extensively for the last year, they sounded completely in sync with one another. I don't think they made any major missteps, despite the potential disaster awaiting them in their numerous instrument swaps. The only halfway noteworthy malfunction was the projector; alas, we were deprived of the video component of their performance. Overall, though, I was left thinking that I definitely want to watch this band's development in the years to come.
Opening this afternoon were (in chronological order) Minmae, Ester Drang, and Minipop. They were all actually pretty good, though they got progressively better as we proceeded up the bill. Minipop, especially, lived up to its name with the kind of jangly guitars and pure pop vocals I could really cozy up to.
Update: Hey, look, someone recorded the show!
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