To settle into my workday, after I take off my assorted winter paraphernalia and reheat some lentils for breakfast, I pop on my headphones and try to imagine I'm somewhere else, usually back in bed curled up with a book. It's not that my job sucks, it's just that sometimes I want to go home and disappear for a long time.
As it turns out, I'm Van Occupanther.I'm Van Occupanther!
Let me explain. The first time I listened to Midlake's Van Occupanther
, I was blown away- until I heard We Gathered In Spring
and couldn't get over the Fleetwood Mac-iness of the wah-wah1
. I didn't listen to them again- until this week, when WAMU, my local Morning Edition
affiliate, held their funding drive. Because I prefer to pirate my public radio with a clear conscience, I wait out the week of Kojo Nnamdi and Diane Rehm admonishing me by turning them off. This particular funding drive, I replaced them with Midlake, in anticipation of their concert at the Rock 'n' Roll Hotel, which both the Object and Lionel (yes, the cat of a vampiverish nature) assured me would be awesome.
About 12 bars into the song, the fluorescent lights around my "office"2
faded and I was transported all Neverending Story
like back to 1891. Not a lot of bands can make you forget the workday to the extent that the Executive Director has to wave her arms like an air traffic controller to get your attention. It's kind of like a musical version of Little House on The Prairie: The Young Twentysomething Years
. Not the suckedy t.v. show version, either.
So needless to say, I got psyched for the concert.
This was my first foray into the world of the Rock 'n' Roll Hotel, in the up and coming Atlas District, which, is the
up and coming-est area in the city.3
Their major design flaw: the bathrooms were up in the front, past the stage. This meant if you, the Object, and Lionel find a sweet spot along the wall where you could actually see the stage, you didn't know if the Fezzik4
in front of you was worming his way to the bathroom or worming his way in front of you to camp out for the long-term. But the sound quality was mixed so well that the denizens of DC can no longer apologize for the Black Cat's tin-litter box sound quality.
I came in during the second opener, St. Vincent
, who seemed to be working really hard to prove her indie street cred by wearing oversized dorky non-prescription glasses, American Apparel, and asking the mostly male crowd if they were ever into Alfred E. Neuman, too5
. She had a sound that evoked Fiona Apple- throaty and deep high notes with the soul of an eighty year old man. With a sped-up tempo and a talented rhythm section, I would defs go see her headlining. Also, she stood next to me during Midlake's set, and I felt damn cool by association.
Midlake spent about three or four hours setting up their massive arsenal of instruments, but oh, how the wait was worth it. They launched into We Gathered in Spring.
The first thing I noticed about the band6
is how well-rehearsed they were. The five-part harmonies were tighter than traffic in Dupont Circle at 5:30 p.m. And don't get me wrong, I'm not damning them with faint praise- all that rehearsal showcases how immensely talented they are- Roscoe
being the prime evidence. Delicate vocals coupled with intricate instrumentation and lyrics came together to give their songs an epic storytelling-quality that brought the experience of listening to them way beyond simply listening to a band that draws from Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young and Steely Dan. Snooty indie kids take note: you can't get away with calling these guys derivative. Ha ha!
Adding video and imagery to back up a concert is not a little risky- you just never when it's just gonna come off as an experiment in marketing for adult ADD. The band backed up their songs with videos that took a minute to realize were not stock footage from the 1890's but of the band themselves traipsing through barren woods wearing top hats and monocles in pope mobile-like contraptions. But ADD this was not- if the album alone transported me, the video made
me a character in the songs. On one particular song, which, sadly, I didn't know, since I didn't have their first album (yet), they started with a picture of a charcoal-drawn witch, and as the song progressed, the camera panned out to show an entire Albrecht Durer-type scene, which, as an audience member, you couldn't help but feel as though you were one of the wretched villagers- but y'know, in a good way, because you had beer and Midlake was the band.
What with all that musicianship and storytelling talent, the band could very easily have been insufferable and far too big for their britches. But I couldn't tell you which bandmember I loved most. There was Tim Smith, who could woo anyone using solely his voice. Eric Pulido's guitar solos put Lindsay Buckingham to shame. Paul Alexander timidly stood behind the two of them and looked like he was most comfortable getting his rawk on when no one noticed. Onstage, McKenzie Smith looks a little like Daniel Franco, but plays a trap set like he's not sure if he's Tony Williams (not that
Tony Williams) or Satan.
And Eric Nichelson's keyboards were like ketchup to the band's french fries- simply pointless without it. While they were intense to the verge of looking all heroin-addled while playing, their between-song banter charmed me- highlights included dedicating Young Bride
to a couple who had gotten engaged that day, and introducing Chasing After Deer
as "a song about a guy who chases after a girl, who is chasing deer, and then she falls off a cliff. Guys, you can write a song about anything
My complaints about the show were kinda gluttonous in nature. I wish that they'd made room on the stage for two people to come in and play a real flute and a real violin on Van Occupanther.
The song needed the real instruments to capture its introspection- i guess the song worked, but it could have been so much sweeter. And with all the band's cohesiveness, I would have loved it if they had taken the time to break out and rawk
. I've never said this before, and I may never say it again, but more jamming
! When they closed with Head Home,
I was too entranced to look away, but if I had looked back, I'm sure I would have the Object and Lionel trading air guitar solos. If the band had let go of themselves, Lionel would be probably picking Van Occupanther as the number one name for the baby in Mrs. Lionel's tummy.
It could still happen. I think their current frontrunner is Baby Return to Castle Wolfenstein. And between the two names, only one will teach her not to chase a deer off a cliff.1
. I'm really just not a FM fan, and you know what, I'm not sorry.2
. It's not
. The Object and I were totally hanging out there back in the day, before
it was cool. Yes, I'm talking about the era of seven weeks ago.4
. For serious- he towered over even the Object and Lionel, who are no slouches at 6'2" or so.5
. I'm probs just jealous that she's getting her cred at a younger age than I.6
than the giant paper mache-ed bear head with pink bejeweled eyes.