Wednesday, 5 December 2018

GIG REVIEW: Midland - O2 Academy 2, Birmingham. Tuesday 4th December 2018

Midland posed as many questions as providing answers when they became Music Row’s extended hand to those decrying the direction of mainstream country music. Debate ran amok in quarters suspicious to what presented, even amongst a consensus on the relative strength of the debut album. Away from the debate, impressive numbers racked up, to propel the view that all that matters is whether punters buy into an artist’s music. Therefore an outfit preaching from the pulpit of Willie, Waylon and the boys rubbed shoulders with factions that pump the notion that a genre can be stretched in any way how.

2018 has seen the Midland brand exported across the pond, with this Austin Texas-based combo featuring on the main bill of the Country-2-Country Festival and returning several months later to a headline tour, parading sold out signs around provincial venues. Oh, the power of marketing. This included a full house in the 600-capacity second room of the O2 Academy in Birmingham.

It would take a hardened country music fan’s soul to perpetuate denial that ON THE ROCKS did not contain redeeming credentials, which at least flavoured a record with a lacing of honky tonk flair. Whether a studio on a mission led the drive or a band following their dream will likely reveal in good time, but more immediate analysis lies in Midland’s capability to deliver a live show to match the lofty status of their early commercial success.  

Any chance that the widely used pedal steel in the album recording would make the trip sunk at the outset, and this evening’s show cemented the view that you might as well just tour the UK with a four-prong guitar attack joining the beating drum. On more than one occasion rock ‘n’ roll took root and as the balance of originals cascaded into a multitude of covers, the Stones, Springsteen, The Band, Allman Brothers, ZZ Top and a parting shot of Chris Isaak reverberated around a venue struggling to match the best in the sound department. From a lengthy menu of covers, a version of Jerry Reed’s ‘East Bound and Down’ was the best delivered.

Inevitably, it was the songs from ON THE ROCKS that both drew the crowd and the most positive response from the floor. Understandably, ‘Drinkin’ Problem’, in its anticipated encore slot, created the biggest wave on the evening, both metaphorically and literally. Elsewhere from the record, ‘Make a Little’, ‘Out of Sight’ and ‘Altitude Adjustment’ made the strongest impression. This was in contrast to the opening trio of ‘Check Cashin’ Country’, ‘Burn Out’ and ‘Electric Rodeo’, which accumulated into a rather limp start to the set.

Comments from the opening shows on the tour ranged from implying ‘a quality band’ to an ‘awful vocal experience sidelining any remnants of a tune’. Trying to tread the middle ground can require expectation adjustment. Evidence forging either opinion can be sourced from a perspective alongside an observation that the majority present were content to buy into a concept of a band pitching their stock on audience interactivity.  

Regardless of where you move next with Midland, the legacy of ON THE ROCKS is intact. Whatever the future brings will no doubt fuel further debate. Regardless of the outcome, their progression will be subject to whether this band can create a niche and maintain an audience, one though possibly driven by trend. From a personal perspective, the Midland journey ended on December 4 2018, but it was one of few regrets, just confirmation that there is better out there.


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