Expectations are high. The Middle East have, seemingly without anyone noticing, gathered enough of a following to sell out tonight’s date in The Sugar Club, apparently as much to their surprise as to ours. Anyone who’s there will have heard that the band put on a cracking live show, their set at SXSW being mentioned several times over the night.
And certainly, the band themselves don’t do much wrong. They’ve a solid stage presence, held up by three charismatic lead vocalists: the guy who croons, the guy who shouts, and the girl. And each of them is as sympathetic as the other, scarcely putting a note wrong. The band as a whole work well together, the seven different members producing a din scarcely within their control, and then wresting it into a song like you would a fish into the boat. At one point, with the assistance of the stellar local openers Halves, a gathering of twelve people pounds through a spoken word cover song, and the chaos of the thing is glorious.
But somehow, the night doesn’t reach the heights we’ve been expecting. There’s nothing wrong with the songs, though it’s hard to argue that all their songs are on the level of opener ‘The Darkest Side’ or their instant classic ‘Blood’, and there’s good reason to think they can put together a better set. It doesn’t take too long before the dismal sound of the venue takes its toll. For the entirety of the gig’s second song the lead vocals are barely audible, and given the band’s penchant for all making noise at once, this isn’t the only problem they encounter. Even the closing performance of ‘Blood’ is tainted by a woeful buzzing sound that clearly irritates the band.
They return to the stage for a therapeutically calm performance that lasts maybe 10 minutes, veering between blissfully chilled and slightly dull, depending how into the set you are. As they exit the stage, the abiding feeling in the audience is that they’re leaving without fully realising their potential. But it can’t be denied: The Middle East are a wonderful band with a genuine talent, and they’re thoroughly deserving of their praise. Let’s hope they come back and give the songs the airing they deserve.
Photos: James Goulden.