Thursday, 18 February 2010

Midlake - Birmingham Town Hall

Well it was a real shame that IDS couldn’t make this gig but work is work and must be attended to and he had to get down and dirty with some cameoid (!). Birmingham Town Hall is a splendid venue, the sounds a bit echo-ey but impressive none the less. The lad and I claimed our place up front before the uniformly gentile and middle class crowd arrived. Could it really be three years since we saw Midlake first at the old Zodiac in Oxford?

The Lad was the one to notice that the huge backdrop version of the album cover looked curiously like a lion or big cat face at this size – surely not an accident, the cover is indeed odd being a mirror reflection of a few of the band dressed up in monkish gowns.

Sarah Jaffe, like Midlake is a citizen of Denton Texas, and was the support for the show. Her band included Robert Gomez who we last saw supporting Midlake in 2007. Jaffe has a good voice and put in a strong of songs.

Midlake themselves came on as a seven piece, including six beards, and promised a big full sound – three guitars, bass, drums, keyboards and flutes and lead vocals with acoustic guitar. They came on stage with no pomp and just got on with it, all looking relaxed and comfortable. Through the set the band played the whole of the current CD Courage of Others, with songs like Children of the Ground, Rulers, Ruling All Things sounding especially strong. The songs without exception sounded more muscular, more direct and the structure of the songs and their melodic complexities clearer. The live set really helped me get more from this album, made more sense somehow. The Courage of Others is not the most immediate of albums, it needs time to reveal itself and the show only helped this process.

Everything was enthusiastically received but the songs from the Tales of Van Occupanther album perhaps understandably got the most rapturous welcomes. Bandits, Young Bride were there as was an epic version of Head Home and an immense Roscoe with a great build up before breaking into the song proper. Branches was used as the encore and so all in all they played just about all of their current oeuvre (given that by their own admission the ‘don’t play’ the first album)

Tim Smiths vocals were in fine form despite his shy and laconic style but the outstanding playing, in my view, went to the lead guitarist who I didn’t know and who isn’t part of the usual band and who put in some fine harder edged guitar work, and also to Mckenzie Smith on drums who displayed great style, sensitivity and musicality throughout.

A hugely enjoyable gig, a band that felt stronger and more confident than three years ago, with an album that only gets better with repeated listens. Lets hope its not three years til they are back again.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Shearwater - The Golden Archipelago

This is an exceptionally and sumptuously beautiful album, a worthy successor to the previous album Rooks and the last of the very loose trilogy of Shearwater albums started with Palo Santo.

Built around island issues, the maritime theme is in balance with previous sets in pursuing the theme of nature, environment and so forth but the mawkishness that often besets such efforts. Indeed the island theme isn't just a tacked on device, these songs resulting from a series of trips to remote islands along with the limited edition 'dossiers' produced by Jonathon Meiburg that illustrate and illuminate the journey. The dossier couldn't be produced by the record label so the band invited fans to sign up for copies and fund the limited run of production ( I await my copy with anticipation!) - a mini and cut down version is included with the CD.

Opening to the strains of the disenfranchised inhabitants of Bikini Atoll singing their national anthem from their adopted home of Kili, the album moves from the lilting and lyrical such as Hidden Lakes, to the harsher and (relatively) abrasive such as Corridors. The whole affair lasts a scant forty minutes but it is a period of unfailing success, a tour de force, woven through with Meiburg's affecting falsetto vocals.

Such vocals can be tiring and despite his lyrics being hard to decipher (thanks however for the lyric sheet) the vocal results in becoming an additional instrument. The whole set is like a tone poem rather than a collection of songs, each shifting into the other, little in terms of standard song structures and hardly a singalong album. But even without understanding it all on first (or subsequent) listens, the passion and integrity bursts through raising the whole above the usual, the hallmark of a special set of music.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010


Now here's a thing! Undeniable Smiths, Motown, Elvis Costello and sundry other influences but this Morecombe bunch of lads have that wonderful fresh, bouncy and shimmering feel of a new band with purpose and confidence.

The indie band thing is getting a bit tired but this stuff cracks along with a swagger. Steve Lamaq of course got there early with his post and link to a download version of Jealous, Don't You Know that is also available via a very limited Fierce Panda EP along with a few other bands.

Heartbreaks have single, Liam My Dear, released at the start of March pre-order-able from their Myspace site. How refreshing to have a new band with some chutzpah!

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Pat Metheny - Orchestrion

I have been a Pat Metheny fan for some time now. I remember distinctly hearing him for the first time, odd though it seems, on an edition of the old BBC programme, Tomorrows World, where he was demonstrating the then new guitar synth, by Roland I think. This must have been around 1983 as I got his next album, First Circle when it came out in 1984, guitar synth featuring heavily.

Whilst my collection of his material is by no means complete there is still a pretty full shelf of Metheny disc, solo, ensemble and group. Most of his music carries the distinctive Metheny qualities, although some like Zero Tolerance for Silence take his ability to explore all musical and crannies too far for me, perhaps one of the only truly unlistenable albums I have.

For me the Metheny music that I return to time and time again tends to be the more introspective, intimate material like the solo One Quiet Night or Beyond the Missouri Sky with Charlie Haden. But irrespective of who he plays with Metheny is ceaselessly inventive and virtuosic. The arrival of Orchestrion had me curious with Pat listed as playing every single instrument from guitars to percussion and marimba to guitarbots - courtesy of the Ochestrion

It is pointless for me to try and explain in detail but the Orchestrion is an up to date version of the player piano idea where the musician has control of all the instruments at his disposal though a complex solenoid arrangement. The embedded video does a much better job than I could hope to do of describing this.

The technological arrangement is amazing, and hats off to all those involved in making it happen and especially Eric Singer who custom built all the orchestrion instruments used here. But what of the music? I guess the most obvious feature is the ability to have several instruments following the same complex runs simultaneously, with the same 'moves and sways' - frankly I have no idea how this really works but it clearly does.

The tracks have the unmistakeable Metheny flavour to them, and no bad thing at all. Exquisitely played of course, flowing, rippling, luxuriant tracks but you can't help but think they sound like a new Pat Metheny Group CD. I am not quite sure what I like it to sound like, but if I didn't know of the amazing technical stuff I would still be pleased to have this as the latest PMG album. Pat obviously feels that it gives him greater and more personal control, with instruments responding to how he wants them to sound, maybe its a musicians thing.

A welcome addition to the Metheny oeuvre, extra-ordinary musicianship and a technical triumph, I guess I just hoped for something extra, something musically even more outstanding in line with the mind boggling orchestrion itself.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Midlake - The Courage of Others

Its been a long time since the Trials of Van Occupanther and its good to have Midlake back. It is said that in intervening time they produced another album but discarded it and started over, The Courage of Others is the result.

Of course there is much to be recognised, the harmonies, the acoustic-ness of it all and the sense that they really must the product of some 19th century Americana/British folk hybrid. As foretold this collection is less optimist-sounding than their last outing which itself wasn’t exactly Beach Boys feel good territory. There is an all pervading melancholia, a sense of wistfulness, loss perhaps or maybe regret, reinforced by the minor chords and the downward key changes and the use of flute throughout. Much of the subject matter revolves around loss of connection with nature, the loss of ways of life and mans ability to make a mess of things. Nor is it an immediate album, a passing listen might not have you rushing to acclaim it.

However it is a strong set and beautifully played, revealing more of itself with repeated listens- Acts of Man and Children of the Grounds, come to the fore. The use of Stephanie Dosen is a welcome addition to some tracks, Ms Dosen is an under-rated talent it seems, first encountered by me as support for Midlake on their last UK tour. The songs perhaps suffer from a certain sameness at least stylistically but there is an unquestionable beauty to the songs and theyreally grow after each listen.

It will be interesting to see how this comes across live, reports of some gigs reflect that perhaps tracks from Van Occupanther are a necessary addition to the set to help with the variety of pace. Perhaps by the time I seem them in Birmingham later this month the benefit of playing this material live for a while will have filtered through.

Obviously no vids yet for the new material, but Roscoe was a class track from the last album...