We’ve said it before (when we reviewed their excellent 4th album) but Midlake seem to have coped remarkably well the departure of their lead singer and main songwriter Tim Smith. On Wednesday night they performed to a packed house at the really quite large Shepherds Bush Empire. There’s a triumphant sense of a band rising from adversity here and the fans are certainly keen to see them, packing out the lovely old theatre.
Those around me seemed a little less interested in hearing what support act for the evening Horse Thief had to say. This was a great shame as for a band so fresh and new to this they are a remarkably impressive live spectacle. They mix a few tracks from their well received debut ep “Grow Deep, Grow Wild” as well as a number of tracks from forthcoming debut full length “Fear In Bliss” which is coming out on Bella Union (a label they share with tonight’s main act) Based on what we saw tonight it’s set to be one of the debuts of the year. The sort of raw, Americana we saw on early releases by Band Of Horses, mixed with the effortless harmonies of Fleet Foxes are an enthralling mix. Singer Cameron has a wonderfully unique voice, mixing the flamboyance of Morrissey with a rich folky sound he also carries an impressive stage presence, neither his voice, nor presence are quite as impressive as the amount of hair he has coming from every follicle on his head however, he’s joined in the big hair brigade by bassist Cody who’s excellent lines give the band an energy that other bigger names of the genre may lack. Despite the amount of people talking they’re well received, indeed label boss Simon Raymonde noted it was one of the most well received set he’d seen in many years of watching support acts at Shepherds Bush. New single Devil was the stand out track in this superb set, one things for sure you’re going to be hearing an awful lot more of these chaps from Denton, Texas.
Denton, Texas of course also being the home of Midlake. The two bands certainly have a lot in common, though while Horse Thief’s sound is rooted deep in the Southern States, Midlake choose to infuse their sound heavily with the influence of prog, and despite their Texan roots are actually quite English sounding in a strange late 70s way. Opening their set with Ages, an album track from their most recent record Antiphon, it could have been a bit of a forgettable opening, however the light show that goes with it is terrific, each stab of the guitar is greated with a flash of white light, dazzling the empire and it’s packed house. The band are in fact largely backlit throughout the set, a more cynical man might say they’re attempting to hide their identities, or even cover for their former frontman however I’m sure it’s a stylistic decision, and it add’s a hazy air to proceeding which suits their sound well. It’s a sign of the bands confidence in their new material that they open their set with three tracks from Antiphon. Following Ages with the albums hazy, proggy title track and then it’s best track Provider. Indeed it’s such a good track they not only recorded two versions of it for the album but play both versions here tonight.
From this opening of salvo, we’re then led down a career spanning set, covering all sides of the bands personality. We get Rulers, Ruling All Things and Children Of The Grounds from the medieval folk tinged third album The Courage of Others, which are some of the lowlights of the evening. Unsurprisingly the sets highlights come from the bands second (and best) album The Trials Of Van Occupanther. There’s a brilliant version of Young Bride, complete with bizarre cameo from Gaz Coombs of Supergrass, the beautiful and playful We Gathered In Spring and the stone cold classic Roscoe, which judging by the reaction of the crowd, many of audience had come almost purely to hear. They close their main set though not with Roscoe, but with another track from Antiphon the brilliant single The Old And The Young, it’s one of their most straight forward songs and all the better for it, it’s stunning bass line rightly brought to the foreground. The crowd made up perhaps unsurprisingly by largely middle aged, men with beards love every second and there’s rapturous calls for an encore which are unsurprisingly headed. They play the slowed, down, spacier version of Provider and then go back to Van Occupanther once more to play a riotous version of Head Home, complete with a guitar solo that may well have lasted 10 minutes, it was a stunning example of the bands confidence and new found freedom to play around and really enjoy themselves, something they seemed much more reluctant to do whilst Smith was in the band. A wonderful set to close a spectacular evening all round, a credit to Bella Union, Denton and more than anything else to Midlake themselves, a band who continue to go from strength to strength despite the adversity they have faced to be here. It’s nothing short of brilliant.