Live: Midlake Date: Sunday, March 4 Opener: Minmae, Ester Drang, Minipop Rating: 3 out of 5
It felt like the first real day of spring outside, which may have explained why the sold-out show at Bottom of the Hill on a Sunday afternoon was far from packed an hour after it started. It also may explain why I missed openers Minmae. Ester Drang's performance made me remember how much I like these guys and regret losing track of them. Coming from Oklahoma, the Jade Tree-signed trio orchestrates music that instantly inspires me to want to create an underground dance phenomenon at arms-crossed indie-rock shows. Half the band appears to be preprogrammed, but it doesn't take away from its captivating live performance. (Neither does the fact that the band just pulled an "all-nighter" with fellow show-mates Minipop and Midlake in the van outside the venue.) Reminiscent of Doves, Ester Drang's lush instrumentation, comprising synths, horns, and groove-driven basslines simultaneously convey upbeat, wall-of-sound pop and twinges of nostalgic melancholy. Projected images of snow flurries and hazy, dreamlike images propelled the theme.
Locals Minipop were an obvious favorite of the day, evidenced by the crowd now shoving in. Coupled with the unseasonably warm weather outside, it was a veritable sauna inside Bottom of the Hill. I started to sweat in my jeans. Sublime vocalist Tricia Kanne led Minipop's lush, sweet-dreaming pop. The band is great at what it does, but I feel like I'm at a KFOG concert. Not that there's anything wrong with that. The guitarist's young son with his toy guitar onstage mouthing along and following dad's lead was the ridiculously cute epitome of "Minipop."
By Midlake there was difficulty breathing or moving. The band sounds like Thom Yorke fronting Fleetwood Mac: forlorn lyrics through clenched teeth, acoustic guitar and piano pop jams with full harmonies. It's both understated and overstated at once. But the bits of guitar noodling makes it teeter dangerously close to a jam band. Midlake certainly has tapped into a part of '70s nostalgia that has mesmerized a significant fanbase, but it's not one I'm hankering for.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK: Previous Experience: Liked Ester Drang's first album. Personal Bias: I like metal. Could Have Lived Without: The couple in front of me nibbling on each other.