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Just quite how a seven strong band with a sound bigger than the state of Texas from which they hail managed to fit on the stage at Exeter’s Lemon Grove I will never know, but not only did they manage it but they also had enough space to bring out support act Jason Lytle (of Grandaddy fame) for an unforgettable collaboration of the wonderfully catchy Grandaddy track A.M. 180 during an epic encore. It seems like only yesterday that Midlake were on tour promoting their 2010 album The Courage of Others but the nearest they got to the South West was Bristol. This was the opening night of this sporadic European tour (the other UK dates being Norwich, Leicester, Oxford and Cambridge) featuring Midlake, Lytle and The Czars singer John Grant and judging by the reception these guys got they won’t be missing out Devon again. Opening for the cream of the crop of the US musicians was Lytle, whose shy and retiring demeanour matches his sweet Mercury Rev/Magic Numbers type voice perfectly. Next up was John Grant, whose classic alt country soothed a path for the main draw to blow us away with their soaring ballads of woe and hope. With four guitars (including a bass guitar), two impeccable vocalists and crucially two flutes Midlake manage to carve a sound which not only fills the air with oxygen but lifts the soul. What’s more they even slip in the odd recorder accompaniment and manage to make it sound credible (she says blowing the dust off her old recorder with a view to forming a nu-folk band). They opened with the beautiful Children of the Grounds from the newest album along with title track the Courage of Others before playing some old favourites, including Young Bride, Bandits and the ones everyone had been waiting for, Roscoe and Head Home – in which drummer McKenzie Smith shone with the full force of the Texan sun. They ended the show on a highly charged rendition of Bandits. Listening to Midlake on your stereo it’s hard to imagine just how epic the live shows could be. Who’s have thought the sweet sounding indie folk band could plug in and capture all the energy of Led Zepplin, the lyrical magic of Nick Cave and the understated euphoria of the Beach Boys. The harmonies from lead singer Tim Smith and backing vocalist Eric Pulido create that pitch perfect surround sound which the most expensive, cutting edge Bose speakers were made for (unlike the speakers at the Lemon Grove which assaulted the heavenly sound of Midlake with a handful of high pitched shrieks, bastard speakers!). The second Eric in the band (Nichelson) managed to make the flute sound like a sweet woman’s voice (unlike my experiment with the flute, which sounded like a tone deaf cat singing Kate Bush). But the one to watch, without a doubt, is bass player Paul Alexander’s who oozes Deep South with every head bob, foot stomp and cute gurn. Overall, this whole gig was a great showcase for the talent signed to my all time favourite label, Bella Union. Go Bella Union!

Words: Laura Williams
Photo: Neff Conner via Flickr