Monday, May 24, 2010

Midlake at Lincoln Hall, 5/23/10

 On Sunday, May 23rd, indie rockers Midlake played Lincoln Hall in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood. Lincoln Hall is a smaller, intimate music venue housed in a rehabbed movie theater.  It has easy parking and probably the best bathrooms ever comma concert venue category.  For Chicago History geeks, Lincoln Hall is located directly across from the Biograph Theatre,where John Dillinger was shot and killed. Opening acts included former Czars front-man John Grant and Grandaddy front-man Jason Lytle.

John Grant collaborated with Midlake on his solo album, The Queen of Denmark.  Midlake's flautist/ keyboardist Jesse Chandler even played with him for one of his songs.  Musically, he's a interesting choice for an opener.  Grant sounds like a mix between Ben Folds and Elton John; so he's pretty firmly indie pop.  He also has funny, light-hearted lyrics (a la Jens Lekman).  I'm not a huge fan of that style of music (except for Lekman), but he was an entertaining performer and has a great voice.   Jason Lytle's low key and wistful set was a more natural fit with Midlake's sound.

The show started out pretty empty, but gradually filled up throughout the evening.  By the time Midlake performed, the venue was surprisingly packed for a Sunday night concert.  Lucky for me, I was one of the few people who arrived for the first set, so I got to be pretty close to the stage.  Midlake started their set at around 10 PM and played for around an hour and half.  Midlake is usually quintet, but their touring band is a septet including four guitar players!  Front man Tim Smith has a reserved stage presence, which makes sense for someone who writes songs about wanting to escape to the forest.  Smith introduced the different band members and thanked the audience for coming, but besides that he kept pretty quiet.  Guitarist Eric Pulido, who resembles a bearded John Krasinski, was responsible for most of the onstage banter.  He is a genial and funny stage presence, even taking time out of the show to wish an audience member a happy birthday.    

Midlake played songs from two of their albums the Trials of Van Occupanther and the Courage of Others.  I am a big fan of both albums, but they are pretty different sonically; Trials has 70s Fleetwood Mac feel to it and Courage is more of a 60s folk mixed with prog rock sound.  It was interesting to see how the band incorporated the sounds from both the albums into a cohesive set.  Midlake definitely downplayed the synth riffs on Trials, going for a more bluesy country sound instead.  The prog rock side of Midlake definitely comes out in concert, extended jam sessions were done to several songs including the opening of "Roscoe", "Head Home" and the heart-breaking closer "Branches."  These sessions really demonstrated the technical abilities of the band and gave guitarist Max Townsley the chance to shine. Also, they rocked pretty hard. Other highlights include "In the Core of Nature" which was accompanied by two flutes and a recorder (a rare sight at a rock show) and a twangier and more upbeat version of "Fortune."  The small venue created a perfect atmosphere for Midlake's serious, delicate sound.

Previously on Midlake:
What We're Listening to: Courage of Others by Midlake.