When Midlake last played London, back in January, the venue for their songs of bucolic yearning was Wilton's Music Hall in the East End, an apt alliance of architectural and musical renovation. Tonight, it's the refurbished engine-shed of the Roundhouse, equally apt in the sense of providing a post-industrial setting for their pre-industrial tales, as if two clocks were ticking in opposite directions, their hands fortuitously coincident only in this exact point at this exact time.
At Wilton's, they gave the impression of still feeling their way into the new songs from this year's lordly album The Courage of Others. Tonight, there's much more of a presence about the group, who command the stage with the confidence of a band that knows it's not only made one of the landmark albums of its era, but has matured into one of the most impressive performing units. "What a band!" a punter shouts out halfway through the set, and the room gives a little collective chuckle, because it's what we're all thinking.
It doesn't immediately seem that way, not when the band open the show with an unfamiliar song. Well, perhaps not that unfamiliar, it being yet another rustic air about long years spent amongst streams and mountains, almost a compendium of Midlake cliché; but it transpires that this is but a new prelude to "Children of the Grounds", one of their most compelling melodies, full of plangent Fleetwood Mac-style harmonies.
From there, they dive into the minor-key melancholy of "Winter Dies" and "Acts of Man", with Jesse Chandler's flute motifs decorating the various entwined strands of acoustic guitar like a William Morris wallpaper design. No other modern band has done as much to restore the flute to rock respectability, braving the hints of pastoral King Crimson in "The Courage of Others" to reach a climax in which two electric guitars are soloing simultaneously over two flutes. What a band, indeed.
The set comprises a seamless braiding of the newer material with highlights from the earlier The Trials of Van Occupanther, whose fanciful evocations of hermit scientists, bandits and stonemasons from a pre-industrial era provide colour and character amongst the more personal expressions of similar themes in the newer songs.
"We hate to disappoint all those people who called out," apologises singer-guitarist Eric Pulido after a loud round of audience requests, "especially the guy who called out for 'Freebird'!" But that guy can't have been too disappointed by the efforts of young lead guitarist Max Townsley, who brings startling new life to several songs with bouts of strident guitar-mangling. He's become Midlake's lightning-rod to new levels of performance, wrenching out a Neil Young-ish climax to "Core of Nature", and prefacing the hypnotic "Roscoe" with a fierce barrage of sound.
For encores, they invite back support acts Jason Lytle and John Grant, backing them on songs by the pair's previous bands Grandaddy and The Czars – a gesture which confirms that Midlake not only have a yearning for old values, their hearts are in the right place to fulfill them, too.Reuse content