Band of Horses, Midlake
Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie
April 7, 2011
Better than: seeing a band of actual horses, which the group of people behind me seemed to think was the funniest joke possibly ever.
With certain performers, it's all about the voice.
And so it was last night at the Verizon Theatre, as Band of Horses trotted through the region as part of their tour to perform a show on a bill bolstered by a one-off support appearance by Denton's Own Midlake. In the cases of both bands, actually -- albeit to different ends, with one act seeing its lead vocalist shine as the other, try as he might, faltered.
Unfortunately for the hometown heroes in Midlake, it was their vocalist who wasn't at his best.
Halfway through the band's 40-minute set, it became fairly clear: Tim Smith, not only the band's lead vocalist but also its primary songwriter, just didn't have his regular, so very distinctly tender vocals under control on this night. After group vocals -- and especially those contributed by Smith's main harmony partner, guitarist Eric Pulido -- carried the bulk of the load as the band ran through its most popular song, Smith addressed the crowd.
"That one was called 'Roscoe,'" Smith said, cheerfully, but with a very evident rasp not usually noticeable suddenly very much so. "It's the one that made us famous, man. World famous!"
He was kidding. But, also, maybe not. Smith followed that quip up with another that told a great deal about the band's self-awareness: "This [next] one's called 'Acts of Man,'" he continued. "It didn't do as well. To me, it's better, though."
His own opinion aside, the song suffered due to his vocal wavering.
But the rest of Midlake's live seven-piece ensemble band was in fine form, as they performed a set that, per usual, completely disregarded the band's earliest material. And there was even a treat thrown in -- a new song, one that Pulido tells DC9 is tentatively called "Dawn Has Arrived," which came off sounding like the bridge between the band's most recent two releases, 2010's more somber The Courage of Others and 2006's sometimes-bouncy The Trials of Van Occupanther, from which a great deal of the band's set last night was culled.
And that, really, may have been the big theme of this night: In many ways, it felt like 2006 all over again. Because, despite the headlining act's having released two albums since their own 2006 breakthrough, their debut full-length, Everything All The Time, Band of Horses too offered up a set that heavily leaned on the album released in that year.
There was one distinct difference between the performances, though: While Smith struggled, Band of Horses' Ben Bridwell, who like Smith serves as both lead vocalist and primary songwriter, shined. And it didn't take long for him to showcase his own distinct, high register.
Just a few songs into his band's set, after performing a few cuts from his band's major label debut, this year's underwhelming Infinite Arms, Bridwell led his band through crowd favorite "Is There a Ghost?" off of 2007's Cease to Begin. Performing with his four backing players before a projection screen backdrop that featured different visual accompaniment for each track, Bridwell was the true star of the night -- even if his offerings too featured its shares of valleys between the peaks.
Reveling in the comfortable atmosphere afforded him by this adoring, reverential audience, much of which was content to sit and listen rather than stand and fist-pump, Bridwell seemed especially loose.
He had his reasons, he explained at one point: "I'm gonna pretend we're playing a dive bar," he said, after marveling in the size of the Verizon Theatre and remarking that his band had played something of a dive the night before. "Or maybe a house party. Maybe a cruise? I don't know."
But the looseness worked against him, too: At one point, Bridwell, mid-song, remarked at some goings-on in the standing room section immediately in front of the stage and even cursing those behind the actions out. Later, he apologized for as much -- but only after explaining that he'd mistook security handling a situation in the crowd for audience members going after one another.
Meanwhile, a few times early on in the set, he simply walked off stage -- no doubt to confer with the front-of-house sound engineer about the band's mix (something that plagued Midlake's performance somewhat, too). Still, it distracted.
But when he was on, he was truly on. And when this happened during the band's almost 90-minute set, the crowd responded in kind -- especially during fan favorites "No One's Gonna Love You," "Ode to LRC," "Cigarettes, Wedding Bands," "Laredo" and "The Funeral."
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In the end, that's all that really mattered.
Personal Bias: This bill would've likely appealed to me much more back in 2006 or 2007 than it does these days, but there's no doubting the strength of a bill with both Band of Horses and Midlake. Thing is, the show probably would've done better in those years, too -- the Verizon was crowded, but, as with so many shows there of late, the side partitions of the venue were in place, blocking off significant chunks of seating sections.
By The Way: When the Verizon's impressive PA set-up is used properly, the place is an incredible. When there are issues, as there were on this night, it's just so-so.
Random Note: Band of Horses guitarist Tyler Ramsey opened the show with a short set before Midlake's.