– Academy 2, Manchester –

The Academy 2 has sold out and there’s a smell of josticks in the air. Actual josticks. The lights go down on the crowd and there’s a buzz of anticipation, everyone halts their conversations and look towards the still empty stage. The seven band members arrive, beards outnumbering 6 to 1; four guitars, drums, keyboard and a flute. Midlake’s latest album ‘The Courage Of Others’ is apparently the result of listening to a lot of traditional English folk music. There’s a large photo from the album behind them, which looks like an advert for the new Robin Hood film.

The scene has been set (as best as you can to create the atmosphere of a forest in a blackened hall) and the first two tunes ease us gently into their world of harmonic earthly reflection. Tim Smith stares off into nowhere as he sings passionate lyrics in a slightly saddened and glum demeanour. The mood occasionally rises into glee with bright chords, bringing with it a substantial amount of euphoria.

The new material is still finding its feet with the crowd who greet the intros to songs from the much loved previous album ‘The Trials Of Van Occupanther’ with growing enthusiasm. ‘Bandits’ and ‘Young Bride’ enhance the atmosphere despite a brief mix up with the lyrics. The title track from the new album carries heavy pessimism, “I will never have the courage of others”, which is accompanied by a flute duet. There’s more of the same during ‘Fortune’ and ‘Rulers, Ruling All Things’. We are rescued from the mire by the beautiful ‘Van Occupanther’.

The next tune is dedicated to “Scott and his son”, if there should happen to be a Scott in the audience that’s a bonus for them. They play an instrumental bluesy intro to a slightly bemused audience, which then leads to ‘Roscoe’. Once recognised as such, this brings much to delight to the crowd, who grab their friends with excitement. It brings the house down. We move further towards the front and stand behind a man who is swaying to the music like a tree in the breeze. They play ‘Acts Of Man’ as we catch another wave of incense.

Three more tunes from the new album, before a harpsichord introduces ‘Head Home’, a more up-tempo, spring like song with lyrics that tell of fond family memories. After which they walk off stage and are loudly summoned back in no time at all for the inevitable encore.

After apologising for the delay between albums, they end with ‘Branches’, a delicate tune with stabbing piano chords and lingering vocal harmonies. The lyrics are once again pessimistic and sullen. The music gently fades to silence, which the crowd respectfully reciprocate for a relatively long period of time. The piano softly restarts the song and brings us to an emotional finale. Overwhelming.

Peter Rea

I like to go see fresh new music at Manchester's superb selection of smaller venues, and then share my enthusiasm.