MidLake at The Ritz

MidLake at The Ritz
Photography by Nick Poskitt


“I know I haven’t said much, Manchester’, says Midlake frontman Eric Pulido.  And you know what… he hasn’t.

We’re a good few tracks into their set at a respectfully packed Ritz and yes, it would be good to hear more from the hirsute bear-like character, newly crowned Daddy Bear to this Texan folksy-come-prog-rock outfit.  And I guess that’s OK.  Not everyone is Bono – with a mini essay to accompany each track – and that’s probably a good thing.  Even living on  a planet with one Bono is only just about manageable.

Maybe the reticence is part of a subdued character:  One man, a T-shirt and an acoustic guitar.  Maybe the reticence is down to the fact that Eric Pulido has been somewhat thrust into this new position of prominence.  Previously the band’s guitarist and backing singer, Eric only took front stage after previous frontman Tim Smith left to start a new project, mid way through the recording sessions for their fourth album.  This is also the first gig on the UK leg of the tour and perhaps Eric is still to find his mojo.  Having said that, even if Eric’s brown and grey attire suggests something of the anodyne folk in terms of on stage aesthetics, and his showmanship is a work in progress, his vocals remain ethereal…. dreamy… smooth and seem to float effortlessly over the heads of the Ritz crowd.

Rather than use the material they had assembled with Smith, 2013’s Antiphon album is all new material and represents a different direction than the jazzier sound you might expect from a group that met as jazz students at the University of North Texas College of Music.  Instead we have something altogether more laid-back and prog rocky… somewhere more akin to Fleetwood Mac than stablemates Fleet Foxes; more Pink Floyd than Floyd Council.  So the rolling, building, rhythm of ‘The Old and The Young’ brings to mind Meddle-era Pink Floyd, whilst in ‘Ages’, the steady vocal note held over the undulating, shimmering guitar is pure 70s folk rock.  Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young and Pulido.

The effect is reinforced by the backdrop to the stage – a representation of the cover of Antiphon – formed of Damien Hirst-like spots, coalescing to form a planet-like object.  Out front – and therefore somewhat out in space – the band are tight, especially the keyboard/guitarist stage right; whereas the lead guitarist Joey McClellan can tend to the pedestrian, even if he’s got all the moves (and the hair) the part calls for.

Any band that choose to call themselves “mid”-anything are courting disaster, although it should be born in mind that Midlake hail from a land where middle-of-the-road is not meant in the pejorative sense, nor necessarily a bad place to be.  Besides, being mid-lake is lot wetter than middle of the road.  However, in choosing to go back, in order to craft a future, Midlake are in danger of courting the bland.  Perhaps that sound was progressive in the 1970s, but it can be hard to sustain over the length of an album, or a live set, in 2014.

But they just about get away with it.  Antiphon was my Christmas present, on vinyl, from my kid brother, and he knows his music.  It’s been played a great deal since then, and the live show reinforced the fact that there are some truly fabulous moments to be found on that album.

It will continue to get plays on the turntable at home, even if I remain unsure where this now progressive band are progressing towards…

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Simon is a writer, broadcaster and countercultural investigator. Over the last 15 years he has written for everyone from The Guardian to Loaded magazine, presented television for Rapture TV and hosted radio programs for the likes of Galaxy. He has also found time to earn a Masters Degree in Novel Writing and write three books (a collection of journalism, a guidebook to Ibiza and one on financial planning for young people – the most varied publishing career it’s possible to have) and establish and run a PR company, Pad Communications, looking after a range of leisure and lifestyle clients.He currently splits his time between researching his PhD at Leeds University, looking into various countercultural movements; consulting freelance for PR clients; writing for the likes of Marie Claire in Australia, The Big Issue and the Manchester Evening News, where he reviews concerts, theatre and is their Pub & Bar Editor. He is also broadcaster, appearing regularly on Tony Livesey’s late night 5Live show for the BBC, and also for BBC Radio Manchester Gourmet Night food and drink show.Simon’s main focus has been music and travel. His career has included editing Ministry of Sound’s magazine in Ibiza for two summers and also writing two long-running columns for DJmagazine – ”Around The World in 80 Clubs” (which took him everywhere from Beijing to Brazil, Moscow to Marrakech) and “Dispatches From The Wrong Side”. A collection of the latter was published in the UK and US as the book Discombobulated, including tales as varied as gatecrashing Kylie Minogue’s birthday party, getting deported from Russia, having a gun held to his head by celebrity gangster Dave Courtney and going raving in Ibiza with Judith Chalmers. He has recently written for the likes of Red magazine, Hotline, Clash, Tilllate, Shortlist and the Manchester Evening News. Pad Communications has recently consulted for clients as varied as Manchester nightclubs and New Zealand toy companies.On a personal note, Simon is a Londoner who left the capital at the age of 18 and never looked back. He sees himself as a citizen of the global dancefloor having lived in Sydney, Los Angeles, Ibiza and Amsterdam. However his life is now rather more sedentary. After all his adventures he bumped into and subsequently married his highschool sweetheart from their North London Grammar. They now live in Stockport with their four children and four chickens, trying to live the good life. Simon recently turned 40 and is steadfastly refusing to have a midlife crisis – as in, growing a ponytail and buying a shiny red sports car.OK, maybe he’ll buy the sports car…