I can't tell you why I gravitate toward certain bands and performers time and time again, and why I'm perfectly content experiencing other artists exactly once (if that), with nary an urge to relive the moment. Of course, it comes down to personal taste--and, likely, my elevated threshold for repetition. But until science weighs in on this affliction, all I know is that Midlake can make another three go-rounds in San Francisco to support The Trials of Van Occupanther (my second-favorite album of 2006), and I'd still line up for each one.
Midlake, Great American Music Hall, September 27, 2007: Though I was born in the '70s, my musical knowledge of the decade doesn't extend much further than the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, a Carpenters album, and the ubiquitous, nauseating radio hits of the time. I chalk that up to the fact that my family and I didn't arrive in the States until 1975, and the cultural acclimation and mastery of language were far from immediate. Sorry to go all Hung Huynh on you there--but woo, Top Chef!
So though Midlake's sound has undeniable roots in that era, it's fairly fresh to my ears. I actually give them some credit for showing me that music of the '70s is, at the least, tolerable and even inspiring.
The influences game, however, has been played to death, so let's move on to more interesting topics. Fans of the band's multimedia show will be disappointed to learn that the mini movies aren't traveling with them this time; I think I read somewhere that the setup was broken. Also, Julie lamented the absence of the papier-mache cougar head, but fortunately, the band's music is strong enough to sustain these losses.
In place of those props, we enjoyed some musical surprises, which are always preferable in my book. In addition to thoroughly traversing the most recent album, they turned their attention to earlier releases, including the self-released debut EP that some (drunk) guy in the audience claimed to have. Bamnan and Slivercork got its due with "The Jungler" and "Balloon Maker," the first featuring an insistent, primal beat worthy of its name.
As with their Bottom of the Hill show, Midlake reprised "Children of the Ground," which sounded a lot more developed six-plus months on. The song list also included "The Pills Won't Help You Now," lead singer Tim Smith's collaboration with the Chemical Brothers. At the Great American, Midlake imparted the tune with a typically bucolic touch and made the song their own in an interpretation that complements the original composition nicely.
But it was the Van Occupanther tracks that we wanted to hear, and the band delivered, even injecting some new arrangements into the mix. "Van Occupanther" and "Bandits" bookended the show, two fine examples of the album's pastoral, unhurried feel. But in between, we got such crowd-pleasers as "Head Home" (requested by some women standing near me, but as it happened, already on the setlist), "We Gathered in Spring," "Roscoe," and my absolute favorite, "Young Bride."
I'm ridiculously suggestible and transparent after a good show, but following this gig, my trigger finger has cued up "Young Bride" at an alarming rate. I singled out the song in my report from Midlake's show in March, but at the Great American, previously unheard aspects jumped out. Of course, that slinky bass line remains the element to beat, but the entire rhythm section distinguished itself at this show.
In fact, this gig reminded me why the Great American Music Hall is my favorite club in the city, even before Eric Pauldino (who Julie thinks looks like Jimi Goodwin, while I prefer to cite his resemblance to Ewan McGregor in Revenge of the Sith) of the band shared his appreciation of the room, even at the expanse of the rooms in Denton, Texas, that had nurtured the group. Bands coming to San Francisco usually aspire to playing the Fillmore, and I can't fault them for that. But as a concert-goer, I look to the Great American Music Hall for the best shows. The sound, the sight lines, the size, the ambiance, even the ticket prices--the Great American has it all. Take any of my preferred bands (Wilco, Arcade Fire, and Beulah, to name just three), and odds are my favorite show I've seen them play was at the Great American.
In Midlake's case, this meant that every nuance of their lush sound came through. For example, they had never struck me as much of a guitar band, but for the first time, I heard charging power chords cutting through the layers of keyboards. At the same time, ephemeral yet essential details, such as those divine harmonies, remained intact. But I'm just being an insufferable nerd; simply, they sounded great.
In addition, I need to mention that the band thanked San Francisco for the support we've lent them. I know the "we love this city" talk is a concert cliche, but as this was the third consecutive show I've attended in the Bay Area where I've heard the same sentiment, I can't help but swell with a little pride.
Maria Taylor and her band opened the show, and the respect and camaraderie flowed between Midlake and her crew, each praising the other from the stage. I saw her former band Azure Ray once and was not impressed at all. In the interim, her work with Crooked Fingers has raised her standing in my book. I wasn't looking forward to her latest incarnation as a solo performer, but she and her crew were, in a word, terrific. Her songs were confident and infectious, and her voice was lovely. The crowd held more then a few fangirls attending expressly to see her, and you could easily figure out why.
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