Spune put Denton’s Midlake at the top of the bill for one of several of the production company’s Christmas concerts in North Texas.
The Denton band is still touring in support of one of the year’s most anticipated local releases, Antiphon, and continues on to the United Kingdom and Europe in 2014.
Midlake isn’t the only band with strong Denton ties on the bill for “A Spune Christmas,” which happens Saturday at the Texas Theatre in Dallas’ Oak Cliff.
Dallas band Air Review makes regular treks to Little D, and Bethan is the brainchild of one-time University of North Texas student Jessi James Hall. Also on the lineup are a few other Dallas names: musician and producer Datahowler, jazz hip-hop cat Topic and experimental hip-hop artist Sam Lao (a protege of the underrated Dallas hip-hop artist and producer Brain Gang).
Spune advertises the concert as a quiet night away from the daily grind, with the deal sweetened by the promise of craft cocktails and the company’s own recipe for wassail. While Midlake will definitely end the evening with gentle tidings, the party won’t be without beats. (Denton residents can vouch for Midlake’s exemplary treatment of John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” should the band offer it as the gift it is for Spune fans.)
And for a fair share of Midlake’s local fans, the concert will be the first time to hear live treatments of the new album.
For Midlake, Antiphon represents a departure. It’s the band’s first recording since the departure of its lead vocalist Tim Smith, with guitarist Eric Pulido stepping in as the main man behind the mic.
The change isn’t too jarring, but mostly because Midlake offers up another album that is at its best when digested in its entirety. The record features 10 tracks that retain the band’s easy listening sort of status — unfurling melodies and pretty harmonies laid over a bed of guitar, keyboard and the occasional winds.
And yet Antiphon is noticeably grittier, thanks in part to Pulido’s fret work, which feels a little more alt-rock in spots than the English folk-rock so often associated with the band.
Like the 2010 release before it, Courage of Others, Antiphon unfolds very much like a concept album. The opening track is named for the sung liturgical response in higher-liturgy Christian churches. An antiphon is often a unison affirmation of Scripture, usually crafted poetically, and is sometimes a unison answer to an edict from the pulpit.
So each track — especially the heavy-hearted “Provider” and the celebratory “The Old and the Young” — is a series of responses to the ever-hungry and happily secular marketplace.
“Corruption” could be taken as a criticism of the false prophesy of unchecked capitalism. And remember, Midlake penned the record before the new pope wagged an anointed finger in the direction of the proudly craven Wall Streeters. “We went to the moon with oil tycoons,” Pulido sings, the last note of the phrase dropping off in an unexpected angle. The rest of the song comes in suggestions. “Bearing all the fruit, they own that too,” Pulido sings. “Slammed our daughter, religion, our father. Who is mother?” The song trails off with a guitar whining in the distance, carried by refrains of “ah.”
“It’s Going Down” comes as close to rocking as any on the album. The mid-tempo song features up-tempo drumming and perhaps the most accessible songwriting on Antiphon. The album segues seamlessly into “Vale,” and then dips into Smith-era flute phrases. There are bright flashes of this post-Smith Midlake. (We’ll say it here: There is a rock opera in this band’s future. The band should make it happen.)
Midlake also keeps up its airy-fairy instrumentation, chimes and harp giving way to the expected flute on “Provider Reprise,” which actually sidesteps parody and answers the second track from a more powerful, assured standpoint.
The orchestral-sounding bass drum punctuates the song with an authoritative pulse. In this reprise, the chorus gets the repeat. “Provider, carry on,” Pulido sings, sounding almost choirboy correct, with careful vowels and stable tenor. “Far from the golden age, following down the foxhole in the ground. Don’t delay. Carry on, far from the golden age.” Then, the song ends with a spacey, lava-like billow of noise and the hum of — what is that? — a cello?
Savor any of Antiphon you can get at the concert.
Some fans will show up at the show craving holiday music. Bethan can fill the need easily, and without offending the Advent-shy unchurched. Last winter, the band made Bethan Presents Christmas, a five-track EP that gives “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” a creepy foreboding before taking a major risk with “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”
Retro rhythm guitar, brush drumming and sultry vocals by Hall paint a picture of a barfly waiting for her Christmas miracle — or a bloody end conjured by David Lynch. With this delivery, which would scald the souls of purists round the world, we get it. Hall is asking Emmanuel (which means “God with us,” remember) because we’re forsaken. If you want religion with this carol, search Spotify for Chanticleer’s Christmas music.
Bethan gets things back on a more sacred track with a sweet and simple “O Holy Night.” No opera theatrics, no pipe organ bearing down on you. Just acoustic guitar and Hall’s voice eventually set against bass, violin and gorgeous harmony.
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877.
A SPUNE CHRISTMAS
What: Midlake, Air Review, Bethan, Datahowler, Topic and Sam Lao, in music company Spune Productions’ annual holiday concert
When: 8 p.m. Saturday. Doors open at 7 p.m.
Where: Texas Theatre, 231 W. Jefferson Blvd. in Dallas
Details: Tickets cost $12 in advance, $15 at the door. For reservations, visit http://bit.ly/1ccESPl.
On the Web: http://spune.com/show/spunechristmas