Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
Midlake – The Roundhouse, London 02/11/10

Midlake – The Roundhouse, London 02/11/10

08 November 2010, 21:22 | Written by Paul Bridgewater

Click on any image to enlarge | All photographs by Paul Bridgewater

At a certain point during tonight’s Midlake show, my mind entirely wandered inside itself. Lost inside the lulling tones of ‘Acts of Man’, I started an inner conversation about the nature of criticism with regard to live music.

To whit: just where does objectivity stand? Am I reviewing Midlake? The entire show? The sound? Or am I reviewing my emotional response to these elements? Is a review primarily of a show or of my experience therein?

Should there be a balance? And if so, please tell me, dear reader, what the fuck it is?

We are in a strange place for music writing right now. We’ve gone from an age of intensely personal, guerilla prose through an era of the sardonic, dry and vital alongside the overtly intellectual, and now – in a world where blogs have a growing currency – the amateur prose of bedroom fanboys is gaining a place, good or bad, in the stylistic pantheon. From the personal to the detached and back to the personal again with bells on.

This is what happens when I’m so overwhelmed by music. It digs within me, unearths debate, moves me to hyperbole. Sometimes I feel guilty about this and questions like, “should I do cold and removed or over-emotive and abstract,” rise to the surface.

The answer is not really a choice for me. There are those able to plough on through that surge of emotion and provide something that’s objective because that’s what the editorial demands. It’s a skill and I’m not one of those people; I believe that the greatest music (or live execution thereof) transforms us into philosophers, lovers, fighters. So this is how I relate and I believe it’s a method that has the possibility to reveal more about the true value and success of a show, a song, a band than objectivity could ever do.

Of course these preceding lines should tell you everything you need to know about tonight’s show - Midlake show themselves to be at the top of their game, aided by a stellar cast of support acts and a lush catalogue of songs.

Before the fireworks, Jason Lytle – he of Grandaddy – reels off a slyly confident stripped down set that reminds me just what a neat little band they were after all. Next up, John Grant – inextricably linked to tonight’s headliners by their collaboration on his debut record (and label affiliation) – gains a bundle of new fans with a similarly minimal set up. It’s a tight setlist touching on both his skill as a songwriter and an every growing vocal range on cathartic songs like ‘Queen of Denmark’, the title track of his record.

If the critical success of their breakthrough The Trials of Van Occupanther LP wasn’t matched by similar acclaim for this year’s The Courage of Others, it didn’t really matter. Every song tonight was a precisely controlled symphony of voice and instrument. While I believe that The Courage of Others demands more from the listener on record to really work, such dynamics weren’t required at The Roundhouse. ‘Acts of Man’ was dramatic and beautifully woefull, as was a stirring ‘Head Home’.

The apex of what they can do is still embodied in ‘Roscoe’ – pulling emotions in the Roundhouse crowd like no other song tonight. Grown men blink back the birthings of tears. Some of them scream plaudits: “The greatest fucking band in the world”. It’s dramatic and intense.

They encore takes a more relaxed, familial tone, with Lytle stepping up to front a performance of ‘Am 180′, arguably Grandaddy’s greatest moment. Fanboys go wide-eyed to my left and right, nudging their respective girlfriends in the ribs, blabbering about how it’sthegreatesongeverwritten and “you know it/you do/I played it to you last week/I used to dance to this all the time/ohmygod it’s sooooo incredible”. Grant’s blustery take on his former band The Czar’s ‘Paint The Moon’ follows.

Objectively and critically speaking, this was a fine show. Press me and I’d probably say it was fifteen minutes too long and, according to the technical fanboys on the front, the “bass was too loud in the mix”. But to my ears and my mind and my heart, it was amongst the most memorable and soul-nourishing I’ve been to this year. I’m an existentialist at heart and yet great music, somehow, manages to make me see God. Funny that.

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