Midlake – Live at The EARL

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It’s been a bit over 6 years since I was last at the East Atlanta Restaurant and Lounge, otherwise known as The Earl.  That visit was to see a band I had taken an interest in, touring well outside their native Denton, TX.  My memories of the venue from that night didn’t exactly match my revisit for their return show at this venue.  It’s actually much better than I had recalled.  Maybe that’s because I’ve been to a number of poor venues since, or, maybe it was because smoking wasn’t allowed in the stage area.

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In any case, The EARL is a place I need to return to with more time, and perhaps sample a burger.  You go to a bar, you should get a burger.

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The opening act was Nicole Atkins, solo on electric guitar.  She’s compared with a female Roy Orbison, which I think is fair.  She covered “Crying,” but aside from that, she’s got a powerful voice used in the same mesmerizing fashion.  I’ll be listening to more.

That said, I wasn’t paying close attention when she introduced a sad song and said something about Puddles the Clown.

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Well, Puddles is by no means a short clown, and with lantern and briefcase in hand, he walked through the crowd as she sang, then joined her on stage...

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... and then sang beautifully, complementing Atkins perfectly.  Go figure.  “The Way it Is” and “The Tower” were highlights.

Midlake is one of my favorite bands.  I’ve finally decided there is no point in picking a favorite band, but this band makes music that, for lack of a better phrase, soothes my soul.  I had seen them three times previously, and my biggest frustration would have to be their infrequent releases of new material.

The band announced a new CD a couple of months ago, with an “oh, by the way, our lead singer and songwriter quit the band last year.”  That matters quite a bit.  But....  the band made the music, and I listen to music far more closely than I do lyrics.  Their former backup vocalist and guitarist is now singing lead, and they brought in a new lead guitarist.  Good plan.

I wasn’t gong to miss this band, even on a work night, because they’re tied for #1 on that non-existent favorite band list.  Midlake is a 6 piece group, also including drummer, bassist, guitarist/keyboardist, and a keyboardist/flautist.  Wherever they want to go with sound, they have that ability.

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But there is a price to be paid for not being visible (or, more literally, heard) for several years.  The crowd was smaller than when I had first seen them, but hopefully there were enough fans in attendance to keep Atlanta on their touring plans.  Until that happens, I certainly don’t mind the opportunity to stand in the front.

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Lead singer Eric Pulido led the band briskly through their set of songs.  There was a little banter, but none of the “this song is about” or “funny thing happened on the way here” type stories that I think many hope for (as long as it doesn’t shorten the set list).  Concerts are aural and visual, but even without celebrity status, people still want to get a sense of the person behind the mic.  Not bad, but I recall Pulido being more interactive on stage even when Smith was still in the band.  Maybe it was a Tuesday thing.

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Midlake, obviously, doesn’t sound exactly like Midlake anymore.   Except that they’re still Midlake.  Former singer Tim Smith had a soft, careful delivery, and the music made room for him to be heard.  Pulido sings more forcibly, even while his tone is similar.  And while the words of their older songs are familiar and are in the right places, they aren’t his.  They still sound fine, though, and the band changed a few things musically on several, if only to allow their new leader guitarist to shine.

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The band’s new songs were built around the current lineup, and the ones they selected played extremely well.  “Provider,” “The Old and the Young,” “Aurora Gong” – and particularly a rocking “It’s Going Down” were very enjoyable.

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Another treat was “Kingfish Pies,” off of their first full CD, the quirky Bamnan and Slivercork.  And without dismissing the contributions of other members,I really appreciate the drumming of McKenzie Smith.  If “appropriate percussion” is a style of drumming, it’s the stuff in which he specializes.  It keeps a certain flow that’s best appreciated over an entire CD... or concert.

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The band had a unique close as well.  Rather than leave the stage, wait for applause and return for the obligatory encore, Pulido suggested that they just stay and play two encore songs.  Kudos.  The closer, “Children of the Grounds,” was another rocking affair that let loose the lead guitar of Joey McClellan.

After which... the band grabbed beers, water and/or a smoke and hung out.  So... why not talk to them a bit?  Tied for #1 as they are...

Interesting bits.  I spoke mostly with bassist Paul Alexander.  Regarding Tim Smith, I guess I’d summarize his view as frustration with and admiration of their former leader.  Sadly, it seems that all the songs/takes that didn’t meet Smith’s vision were literally deleted, not just put aside.  And by inference, I gather that working style possibly precedes their more recent efforts following their last album together.

I sometimes wonder how bands make it financially, especially when members have spouses at home, travel costs, and crowds may not meet expectations.  It seems that Europe is feeding the band with a bigger following, and the bar they own in Texas helps a bit.  Releasing an album every three years risks losing an audience, and if bands can’t support themselves, there’s no new music for fans like, oh... me.

I also asked about Trials of Van Occupanther, and Alexander said (paraphrasing and the best as I can recall) that it resulted from Smith seeing a modern picture of a lady dressed in equestrian garb standing in a private library and wondering about how, in a particular slice of time in the past, that scene might somehow occur.    Interesting... and it certainly led to one of my favorite CDs ever.

After getting autographs and wishing them my best... well, yes.  it was late, but worth it.

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4 of 5 STARS

 

 

Set List (as listed)

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Set List (translated)

Young Bride
We Gathered in Spring
Antiphon
Provider
Rulers, Ruling All Things
Courage of Others
Kingfish Pies
It’s Going Down
Aurora Gone
The Old and The Young
Roscoe
Provider Reprise

non-Encore
Children of the Grounds
Head Home
(the band skipped Van Occupanther on the list above)

 

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