It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Midlake. The Texas folk rockers released their fourth album Antiphon in 2013 and toured it extensively, and then went their separate ways for an extended hiatus while band members worked on several solo projects and other collaborations, opened a bar in their home city of Denton, TX, and started families. Only in late 2019 did the first stirrings of new activity from the band appear, with Facebook posts hinting at the start of work on something. That work continued through the pandemic, and result of it finally appeared in March of this year in the form of the band’s fifth record For the Sake of Bethel Woods.
Touring for the album brought the band to Union Stage in Washington, DC this past Tuesday, where they played to a modest but enthusiastic crowd of fans who clearly had been waiting a long time for their return. They opened the show with the trio of songs that starts off the record, “Commune,” “Bethel Woods,” and “Glistening.”
It is, of course, nearly impossible to talk about Midlake without noting the shift that happened between their third and fourth albums, when original frontman and songwriter Tim Smith departed, and Eric Pulido (already a long-time member of the band at that point) took over the center-stage role. For many bands such a major change would be a breaking point, or at least everything before it would be relegated to history. But Midlake came through stronger than ever, and have chosen to embrace their past and include a number of songs from The Trials of Van Occupanther and The Courage of Others in the setlist, including “We Gathered in Spring,” “Young Bride,” “Acts of Man,” “Children of the Grounds,” and of course “Roscoe.” The days of multiple flutes on the stage are gone (though keyboardist Jesse Chandler does break his out several times through the course of the night, to great effect), but there is still a magic to these songs that Pulido successfully manages to capture while making them his own.
In some ways, For the Sake of Bethel Woods is a culmination of everything so far. Songs like “Feast of Carrion” hark back to those earlier, folky days, while “Meanwhile…” has notes of the heavier psychedelia that permeated Antiphon. It’s the sound of a band that has fully matured and learned to mesh their various influences. Nothing could make that clearer than hearing all of these songs old and new seamlessly (the occasional dad joke or reference to it being a “school night” aside) brought together into a coherent set showcasing much of the history of the band so far (with the notable absence of their more straight-up indie rock debut Bamnan and Silvercork).
Never a band to rush out new material, it’s obvious that Midlake does things on their own time and in their own way, with little concern for the standard churn of the record industry. Still, we can only hope that it won’t be so long until we hear from them again!
If Midlake’s triumphant comeback was the biggest excitement of the night, it only slightly overshadowed another welcome return on the same bill. Brooklyn’s Caveman, who opened the show, hasn’t been gone for quite as long, but their new album Smash, released last year, still marked the first time we’ve heard from them in quite a while. This set saw frontman Matthew Iwanusa behind the drum kit for what he said was his first time ever playing drums in a live show. While that has to have been daunting, he didn’t miss a beat (literally) handling both the drums and the vocals together as if he did it all of the time. The band oddly played only one song from the new album, focusing the majority of their set on their debut CoCo Beware and its follow-up self-titled record.
Commune Bethel Woods Glistening We Gathered In Spring Young Bride Acts of Man Children of the Grounds Antiphon
Aurora Gone Meanwhile… Feast of Carrion Roscoe Noble The Old and the Young