Tonight is all about lakes. From Midlake to Gold Lake, they are unified by their ability to evoke the feeling of the great American wilderness in the relaxed and amiable atmosphere of the City Hall Ballroom.
Gold Lake are based in Brooklyn, but the influence of their Spanish members is tangible throughout their music. A maelstrom of swirling strings is orchestrated by thumping percussion, wrapped in a 70s American vibe smattered with echoes of Fleetwood Mac. ‘We Already Exist’ and ‘Alpide Belt’ showcase their musical spectrum, ranging from ethereal to classic American rock. They’re impressive and give the headliners a run for their money.
Midlake’s sound has changed markedly since they first came to prominence with the release of their second album, The Trials of Van Occupanther, in 2006. Back then, ‘Young Bride’ and ‘Roscoe’ captured the imagination. Their brand of throwback indie folk melded with classic soft rock was light years ahead of its recent popular re-emergence. Their last album, Antiphon, is very much in the Pink Floyd mould, eschewing the folk roots undertone in favour of a more expansive and dramatic focus.
Opening with ‘Ages’, supplemented by an impressive light show, it’s difficult to ignore how much their music borrows from Walters, Gilmour and co. Tonight is a showcase of Midlake’s musical journey, their set oscillating between the Americana influenced indie of their earlier music to more expansive blocks of sound which eddy around the Ballroom, sweeping you away on an almost mythical journey. They’re an incredibly tight live band, and whilst the departure of Tim Smith may have heralded a change in direction, there are still faint echoes of their former selves in the new songs.
With Eric Pulido taking over singing duties, their songs gain an anonymity which, whilst losing the harsher edges of Smith’s vocal range, loses some of their character. A rapt audience give themselves totally to the music, allowing it to filter through them and transport them across the waves. A well-judged cover of The Band’s ‘I Shall Be Released’ tops off an impressive show.
Celebrating the launch of their new EP, On Swings And Roundabouts, Early Cartographers brought together a diverse group of acts - musically all very different, but united by their adventurous approach to making music and all tributes to the continuing strength of Sheffield’s current alternative music scene.
Jim Ghedi opened the evening, and in characteristic style played just two semi-improvised tracks, both brand new and both utterly compelling. I’ve seen Ghedi perform dozens of times, and it seems he offers something different every time. Tonight he was joined by Christian Bentley on live electronics. The addition of beats and texture kept driving Ghedi’s far reaching and wildly eclectic guitar style forwards. He really is one of the leading experimental musicians in Sheffield at the moment, and well worth your attention.
Solana are an Anglo-Valencian band, resident in Sheffield, whose music takes in Mediterranean, Celtic, North African, Latin and Eastern European folk influences. But despite this huge stylistic base, the music is focused and driven when upbeat and spacious and beautiful in the more relaxed tracks. There are some great musicians in this band with cleverly composed songs. Despite the short set, it was a wild journey.
This sense of adventure continued into Early Cartographers’ headline performance. They’re rapidly becoming one of the most individual and idiosyncratic groups in the city. A year or so ago, when reviewing their previous EP, I described them as a band who wear their influences very overtly. Although you’ll still hear plentiful shades of Beirut and Arcade Fire, I’m inclined to retract that comment. Their growth as a band over the intervening months has seen them take full ownership of their sound. Though I love their recorded work - the new EP is a belter - they’re a band to see live. Like the others I’ve seen recently, tonight’s performance is exuberant to the point of almost religious fervidity; all members of the band singing and playing with passion and conviction, a unified force of sheer musical power.