Midlake | Pop review

Tabernacle, London

After a long absence from ­the city ­Midlake guitarist Eric Pulido calls "a second home for us", the ever-evolving Texans are back with a brilliant new ­album, The ­Courage of Others, in tow. But a dodgy drum monitor threatens to derail their ­return. Or as singer Tim Smith, waiting with acoustic ­guitar and flute, puts it: "There goes the mystery."

In truth, the beardy band – now ­a seven-piece with Jesse Chandler on flute and keyboards and Max Townsley on electric lead guitar – are not known for showbiz smoke and mirrors. It's the heartfelt honesty, inquisitiveness and exceptional harmonies of their music, from the psychedelic-hued folktronica of their 2004 debut to the classic 1970s rock of breakthrough album The ­Trials of Van Occupanther that have won them a devoted following.

When the lush distress of Branches falls to a pause, the captivated crowd hold their breath until Chandler picks up the broken melody. ­Forgetting a chorus of Roscoe, Smith shrugs: "You filled it in for yourselves." Throwing back his head and closing his eyes, Smith loses himself in songs that flicker with shades of folk then burst into finely wrought rock.

The latest album replaces the heat of a Californian summer with a ­cool ­British spring, and on stage ­Winter Dies and Acts of Man are bigger, braver and more immediate. Alive with nature and wonder, the music is dense but never bleak, the band so in tune with one another and their new ­direction that guest Stephanie Dosen's hesitant ­contribution to Bring Down feels ­intrusive. She's on safer ground with the glorious ­melancholy of encore Head Home, but it's Smith's furrowed eyebrows, hound-dog expression and ­infectious passion that makes everyone give thanks for ­Midlake's resurrection.

• This article was amended on 25 February 2010 to correct the spelling of the photographer Bil Zelman's name in the caption.


Betty Clarke

The GuardianTramp

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