The Rock and Roll Hotel might be a trek from campus, but it’s a funky little personal venue well worth it. While waiting for the Texas-based Midlake, Nicole Atkins took the stage to perform a solo set. Currently working on her 3rd studio record (Slow Phaser, due out in February), Atkins walked on stage with stunning bohemian flair, sporting a cape and a beaded choker. Fans who were lucky to make it to the very front of the stage struck up conversation with her before she began.
Her first song, “Red Ropes”, was interesting crossover of a deep, dark pop and folk music. Her music has a vintage touch and is hauntingly beautiful, and her outfit matched her style. Although her music isn’t the most uplifting, if you want to cry alone in your bedroom with incense (which everyone wants to do every once in a while), Nicole Atkins is definitely your girl. Performing alone on stage is difficult and she pulled it off with just two microphones (one for echo, one for reverb) and her electric guitar. Vocally, she resembles a mix of Stevie Nicks and Linda Ronstadt, with a soulful grace and rolling rise and fall best expressed in her performance of “The Way It Is”. Aside from her gruffer bluesy vocals, she performed a few songs stylistically more similar to those of Joan Jett with roaring rhythm guitar and passionate delivery. Her unique style lent itself well to Roy Orbison’s “Crying”, the theme of which seemed present in most of her songs.
She was very personable with the audience as well, though some of her songs sounded rather similar. She played for just under an hour, and by the finish of “Neptune City”, the crowd, including NPR’s Bob Boilen (All Songs Considered, NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert series) was ready for Midlake.
After a 20 minute break, Midlake took the stage, led now by guitarist Eric Pulido after Tim Smith’s departure in late 2012. The show kicked off with a rousing rendition of “Young Bride” before transitioning into “We Gathered in Spring”. It was interesting that they chose to play two tracks from The Trials of Van Occupanther before delving into some tracks off their new record, Antiphon, though it was helpful in comforting the audience that the band we were seeing now was indeed the same old Midlake, rather than an entirely new band.
That said, for those unfamiliar with the new record, Antiphon represents an auditory evolution and slight departure from their traditional folk roots. It instead opts to combine their earlier original sounds (think Milkmaid Grand Army’s Radiohead-esque musical soundscape) with the folk-mystery found in Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young as well as Midlake’s later albums, resulting in a new sound resembling a crossover between The Moody Blues and Fleetwood Mac with a more upbeat and natural sound. I may be alone in this, but listening to Midlake has always reminded me of being outdoors, in an autumn wood yet to be explored. It’s a vaguely familiar and comforting sound mixed with a distinctly earthly mysticism.
Amazingly it has been nearly ten years since the release of their first full length record, Bamnan & Silvercork, in June of 2004. In honor of that achievement, Midlake reached further back in their repertoire and pulled out “Kingfish Pies” before explaining to the crowd that unfortunately, DC had gotten Miles and Jesse (Chandler, the keyboardist) sick, preventing them from being able to have a drink. Thankfully, they made it through the show alright and didn’t seem to look any more blue than the lighting on the stage made them seem. The drums in particular were on point (though the mix may have been a touch muddy) and the guitar laid down by Joey McClellan was truly incredible. I had the great opportunity of being right in front of him, getting to see his pedal kit and his incredibly nimble solo-picking and chord progressions. After the show, the band was kind enough to stick around, take pictures, and sign records for their fans.
Below is Midlake’s full set list, as well as the song titles taken from their printed set list which earns their manager a special shout-out. For those unfamiliar with their music, nearly all of the printed song titles are parodies of their true counterparts, a fact which went largely unnoticed by the band until we pointed it out to them after the show.
- Young Bride (Old Bride)
- We Gathered in Spring (Gathered in Sprung)
- Antiphon (Auntipony)
- Provider (Provider)
- Rulers, Ruling All Things (Grueler Grueling All Things)
- Courage of Others (Courage of Brothers)
- Kingfish Pies (Kingfish Ties)
- It’s Going Down (It’s Growing Brown)
- Aurora Gone (Aurora Bong)
- The Old and The Young (The Old and The Dung)
- Roscoe (Roscoe)
- Provider Reprise (Provider Reprise)
- Head Home (Bread Gnome)
–Jordan Grobe & Gabrielle Greenfield