Over The Weekend: Midlake, John Grant at Hailey's Club

Midlake, John Grant
Haileys Club, Denton
June 5, 2010

Better than: some other folk bands, probably.

When John Grant, former frontman for The Czars, took the stage to open for Midlake's homecoming show at Hailey's Club in Denton, he really did set the tone for the entire night. He sat down, somber-faced and forlorn, and stared despondently at his piano.

"I'm sure all of you out there know what it's like to have a cocaine dealer living on your couch," he said.

The audience, made up for the most part of folks under 21 (I've had a harder time getting a drink at Hailey's at 10 PM on a Wednesday night), chuckled a bit.

It would be one of their liveliest efforts of the night.

When Denton's own Robert Gomez and others joined in on the fun on stage, they provided a good backing for Grant's solo work--the lyrics and tone of which probably went over a lot of people's heads, particularly during "Jesus Hates Faggots," a song with clever and intense statements that no one really seemed to catch on to.

At one point, Grant stated his love for Denton after having recorded his solo debut album there, seeming very sincere in doing so. He thanked Midlake, and indeed the help they provided in his time of great personal need came out not only in his interactions with audience, but also in his music, which, by no coincidence, seemed very connected to that of Midlake (not least because it was produced and co-written by bassist Paul Alexander).

When it was Midlake's turn to "rock the house," there was certainly a buzz of excitement in the air. Playing at Hailey's instead of the Palladium may have turned out to be more fitting for them in terms of intimacy, potentially confusing venue change notwithstanding.

As the band launched into a live rendition of "Winter Dies," the audience became spellbound--apparently so much so that they really didn't move almost at all the rest of the performance. The sea of still faces in the room appeared more like a photograph than a movie.

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For "Young Bride," the guys opted for an extended live version, something they did with many of their more popular songs. It may have been for the better--if these build-ups and rock-outs actually rocked.

Something about making a song a couple of minutes longer without it reaching that true visceral crescendo was a letdown, which may have been what prompted someone within earshot to say, "This is like a rock show for senior citizens."

Midlake upped the ante, though, during a relatively rousing performance of "Roscoe" in which they came closest to what could be considered "rocking out." It was another one of their extended treatments specialized for live performance, and it did spark some undulation from the crowd. But, in keeping with respectful folk show etiquette, it wasn't much.

In spite of the inherent lull produced by a contemporary folk outfit with an acoustic guitarist and flautist, Midlake was as tight and precise on this night as you could expect from an internationally lauded and group that was recently nominated for a Mojo award as "best live act." The songs weren't played exactly as they appear on their albums--they were improved through some individual instrumentation that blended together quite seamlessly.

It's easy to see why these guys are as big worldwide as they are--they are decisive, masterful, deliberate yet effortless and smooth as hell with their music. This applies even more so to their live show.

But if there's one ingredient they forgot to add to their very advanced recipe, it's entertainment.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
As if it weren't already so incredibly evident, I like my rock music to rock. Granted, this is folk and isn't necessary supposed to. But for Pete's sake, make people move!

By The Way: Contrary to the belief of many, I think the band's sound lends itself more to recorded studio material rather than live performance precisely because of its contemplative, soft and repetitive nature. I also think the band is a true team and isn't meant to showcase any one singer or instrument in that very singer/songwriter way that many folk groups do, which is one of their strengths.

Random Note: I heard Midlake for the first time in my life the day I went to this show. I listened to almost their entire discography that day, and perhaps I'd experienced some burnout when it came time for the show itself..

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