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Music

Midlake takes me back

Posted by Matt / February 12, 2007

I don’t know where it comes from, but lately I’ve been obsessed with late 19th, early 20th century America. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I’ve spent the last two months immersed in Thomas Pynchon’s ode to that period, “Against the Day”, or maybe (and I am more inclined to believe this one) I feel as if our own time, with its moral, cultural, and economic ambiguities, more closely reflects the last fin de siecle then it does the last 20 years.

When The Band sang “Virgil Cane is the name, and I worked on the Danville Train” on The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, it recognized that cultural indicators, like fine wine, had to be aged before they could be properly enjoyed. The civil war was one hundred years in America’s past at that point, and it has been a long time since a band went that far back for inspiration.

When Midlake sings “Whenever I was a child I wondered what if my name had changed into something more productive like Roscoe been born in 1891” on Roscoe, their quarry is also about 100 years old, and like “Dixie” it points to a time similar to our own. It is an interesting thing when a band can remind you that cultural parallels exist 100 years apart from each other, but Midlake does it. Although they enjoy glowing comparisons to Fleetwood Mac’s golden seventies rock, Midlake’s real influences come from The Band’s abilities to recreate heartfelt narratives from the 19th century.

This became incredibly clear to me when I saw their sold-out performance at Main Hall last night. Accompanied by various filmic representations of late 19th century life, I realized that this was a band more influenced by Dostoyevsky and Joyce then it was by Casablancas and Timberlake. Songs like “Young Bride”, “Head Home”, and of course, the Blog-phenom “Roscoe” all point to life before iPods, Blackberries, and Youtube, and god bless them for it. By reaching backwards, Midlake reminds us that our culture is not 15 minutes old, and that rock bands don’t have to sing about cocaine and loft parties to capture our collective imaginations. We all have brains whose mechanics date back more than 100,000 years. Let’s start behaving in a way that recognizes this. And whether or not Midlake is your cup of tea, I think we can all agree with the band, when they sing in their song “Head Home”: Bring me a day full of honest work, and a roof that never leaks. I'll be satisfied.

Discussion

7 Comments

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