Midlake’s The Trials of Van Occupanther can be found on pretty much every best of 2006 list. It probably explains why this gig was originally scheduled for the 1000+ capacity Pyramids Centre in Portsmouth. The follow up, The Courage of Others received much more mixed reviews and it seems the public have agreed, with the show being downgraded to the more intimate Wedgewood Rooms with some of the 400 tickets still available on the door.
This downscaling doesn’t seem to have affected the band though, who are amiable and relaxed playing to a hardcore fan base that, apart from the front row, contains a high proportion of males aged between 35 and 60; hardly surprising considering their recent LP’s obvious references to late-60’s / early 70’s British folk-rock. It’s not just musical references that are present on stage either - the amount of facial hair the band sport suggests that they have jumped in a time machine and advanced 40 years.
Midlake are utterly competent musicians, but the songs they play wash over the Wedgewood Rooms without ever cleaning up - many of them sound virtually identical. Mellow and detached sounding, each track blends into one another with unremarkable snoozy refrains, Jethro Tull influenced flutes and a number of self-indulgent guitar solos. It takes Roscoe to bring a minor high - a memorable dynamic melody that rises its head above the earnest monotony. This song is unfortunately the exception rather than the rule. Tunes such as the pagan Core of Nature lack bite or sense of passion to make the gig seem anything other than an exercise in eyes shut head nodding - something that could be easily achieved at home with the CD on.
“It’s been too long,” the band announce before reciting a tale about the last time they were here - they visited a submarine and childishly found the word “Sea men,” - used by their guide - very funny. It’s a shame that such boyish stories are the best moments of the set.