– Albert Hall, Manchester –



How does a band who haven’t released a record in nearly a decade until very recently, haven’t toured for nearly as long, and no longer have their OG frontman who performed some of their most beloved songs, mount a credible comeback that people will be bothered about? The answer lies in Texas band Midlake’s quietly triumphant return from the brink. Having released ‘Antiphon’ back in 2013, their first album without founding member and lead singer Tim Smith who apparently departed in slightly acrimonious circumstances, the band took a “little break” that turned into a near decade long hiatus, before reconvening in 2019 and getting properly going again during those dark lockdown days from March 2020. The result is their somewhat surprise new album ‘For the Sake of Bethel Woods’, a kind of “I assumed they had broken up” surprise of an album that filled me with a sense of warmth when I heard it; an old friend who you’d completely lost touch with, but someone you never lost affection for, sending you a message out of the blue. Perhaps another surprise is that the album is actually very decent, and doesn’t just hark back to the good ol’ days of ‘The Trials of Van Occupanther’, but builds on their legacy and adds new textures and flavours to their sound.

What’s delightful about this evening’s comeback show at the Albert Hall is that the band embrace their time off and their older material. Sure, this is a showcase for their new album, but it’s also a sort of “thank you” to the assembled fans who have paid their money and put their faith in a band who haven’t exactly paid much attention to them for a while. New frontman (he’s always been in the band) Eric Pulido’s warm embrace of material from ‘Van Occupanther’ and ‘The Courage of Others’ is lovely to see, and their evident joy at being back together and delivering these career spanning sets is heart-warming. They kick off with a thrilling run of the first three tracks from ‘Bethel Woods’, some of the most exciting music the band have made in their career. ‘Commune’ segues into ‘Bethel Woods’ seamlessly, the latter sounding like something from Radiohead’s under-appreciated ‘Hail to the Thief’, all bouncing, driving bass and drums and keys, and it sounds massive; ‘Branches’ this is not. It helps that there are 6 of them on stage, 3 of those playing guitars, which makes everything sound huge. ‘Glistening’ follows all false peaks before breaking into a slow burn, er glistening coda, the Albert Hall’s light operator working overtime to splay beams of light across the band.

Then there is the older stuff, and the warm sense of nostalgia they bring, the songs that still sound wonderful after a decade or more out of the conscious. ‘Young Bride’ is gorgeous; ‘Acts of Man’ finds support act Bess Atwell on stage to duet with the band (although she’s drowned out a bit by the scale of the band unfortunately). But it’s ‘Roscoe’ that inevitably garners the biggest response from the crowd, an absolutely undeniable tune of its time, a song that is a pleasure to hear live again, and one that the band evidently enjoy both playing it and the reaction from us. Across the night there are flutes, naturally, and there are surprising drum and shredding guitar solos from Smith and a brilliant Joey McClellan respectively, the latter the MVP of the night, an effortlessly brilliant guitarist. The encore with a giddy version of ‘Heading Home’, the perfect send off. I leave with a renewed appreciation of a band I’d all but forgotten about, and a warm feeling in my heart that a comeback of this sort can be more than a nostalgia trip; Midlake still has plenty to offer moving forward, as well as looking back.

Midlake Official | Facebook | Twitter