Midlake – Live at Variety Playhouse

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One of my favorite groups at my favorite venue… who’s going with me?  My concert buddy?  No.  Spring Break travel plans.  My friend who used to work with me?  No.  An apparent victim of good intentions and a long drive.  My son?  “Yeah, maybe.”  My daughter? “Sure.”  Okay then!

Fast forward to concert day:  Son?  “Yeah, I guess.”  Daughter? “No.”  My wife? (a surprising X-Factor) -  “Play something they do.” 

And so it was, that the three of us went to Little Five Points, Atlanta’s alt-neighborhood.  First we stopped at Little Five Points Pizza.  My son objects to anything other than fast food, as he sees no reason why anyone would want to order food, wait for it, then eatLittle Five Points Pizza in a restaurant.  By the time we were done with our excellent Cheese or Italian Sausage slices, the story changed to “Hole-in-the-Wall restaurants are always the best.”  Indeed, son.

So we arrived at Variety Playhouse about 5 minutes prior to the 8:30 opening.  There were, counted liberally, maybe 50 people there including employees.  What gives?  So, I talked to the Sound Board guy.  “Don’t know man.  It’s not our usual promoter.  It’s finally a nice day outside. They’ll come in later.”

I talked to Don, one of the regular security guys.  He like the idea of a smaller crowd, having worked a sold out Third Eye Blind the night before.  He enjoys all the shows, but likes good guitars.  He’s the blip of white standing by the right exit door in the photo above.  Great guy.

I talked with the lady hawking (or, sitting idly with nothing to do) Midlake’s (ugly) T-shirts and CDs.  She’s from Atlanta, and was technically employed by the promoter.  She had little to say.  So, I got my usual Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, and returned to our nice little table to the right side of the venue.  It’s nice to sit up front without having to pay a scalper… (Tickets: $17).

The first band took the stage amidst the low murmur of conversations of those present – electric guitar, drums, cello, and keyboards, promising an interesting range of potential styles.  This was a local band whose name I missed but that I won’t investigate further.  Sure there was some instrumental talent, but the vocals were weak, and the music was generally slow and unfocused. The drummer was excellent; hopefully he can find some band mates that prefer a pulse in their music.

Up next was John Grant, who is touring with Midlake.  He John Grantwas very personable and chatted with the audience before “playing his funeral dirges.”  He has a strong, rich and timbered voice, which was quickly revealed to be wasted on very wordy prose (not necessarily a bad thing.  Andrew Bird or Sufjan Stevens, anyone?) that is likely to bore or offend half an audience or remind the other half that they need their depression meds.  If you don’t listen to the lyrics, he “sounds” pretty good.  The guy needs a little love and hope in his life.

Midlake

FInally, at 10:30, Midlake took the stage.  On tour, they’ve expanded from their five piece core group, adding a keyboardist/flutist and lead guitarist, both of whom played on their most recent CD, The Courage of Others.  In short it was a stage full of musicians, and one wondered how four guitarists would compete for sonic space.

The band played almost every song from their last two CDs, if not every one of them.  They played none from Bamnan and Silvercork, their keyboard driven first full release.  The last two CDs are difficult to describe, but build in elements of Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac (so say the critics), British folk, and a touch of Jethro Tull.  But a strict comparison to any one of those would not do them justice.

One aspect of avoiding the earlier CD is that the presentation is simpler.  Several years ago, they played at the East Atlanta Restaurant and Lounge (The EARL), packed into a tiny corner stage, with members literally stepping around each other and over equipment to play what was needed for each song.  This time, each by and large was able to concentrate on their main instrument, and, of course, the stage was much larger.

Midlake - Tim Smith

Tim Smith is the songwriter and lead singer, and it’s his vision that they band follows.  He could as easily be singing in his living room, comfortable situated on any chair and strumming his acoustic guitar for his own pleasure.  Given the spectrum of instruments played  (various guitars, keyboards, flute, drums, bass, recorder) and the Midlake - Eric Pulidonumber of band members playing them, it’s interesting to imagine how what begins so simply on acoustic chords evolves into the band’s full production.

As for the guitarists, the sound mix wasn’t perfect.  But up front close to the stage, whoever played lead could be heard distinctively, and the other guitarists rarely played the same guitar lines.  Why the extra band members?  Because something is lost without the additional layers. Also, for anyone who enjoys flute in rock music, this is a great show.

The band played about an hour and 40 minutes, including one encore.  The newer songs blended Midlake - Max Townsleyseamlessly with the Van Occupanther songs, and many in the crowd were familiar with the newer songs, released only a couple months ago.  “Roscoe” and “Young Bride” were clearly the crowd favorites, but Max Townsley added some great solos to songs that were very familiar, not that Eric Pulido or Eric Nichelson didn’t have their moments.  But anyone listening for virtuosity in this band is missing the point – it’s about the music.

Despite an audience they may have gradually grown to include several hundred, there was no hint that the band did not put their all into it.  Good Friday is not a good date for booking concerts, as people tend to be leaving town or just arriving.  Hopefully, Midlake won’t hold the turnout against Atlanta and will one day return.  They put on a great show; take a chance if they tour near you.

Additional photos can be viewed HERE.

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