After rambling about how brilliant The Middle East are for over a year, I couldn’t let a little problem like being 4,467 miles away stand in the way of covering their debut Irish gig. There could be no better solution than asking my favourite music blogger – Shane from The Torture Garden – to go in my place and write a guest review. Surely combining the two for a cozy evening in The Sugar Club could only result in near-fatal levels of loveliness. Let’s find out…
In the centre of Dublin city, like a flea leaping off a dog’s back, The Sugar Club sits squat next to St. Stephen’s Green. And indeed, it plays host to exhibitions and presentations that might not find a venue anywhere that takes its name from a saint: burlesque dances and wild imbibations of alcohol are standard fare here.
Tonight however, exposed midriffs are few and far between. The Middle East have arrived from Down Under, with glockenspiels, pianos, guitars, brass, a carton of bio yoghurt, a small container of sexual tension, quite a lot of facial hair, a very probably very real amount of banned substances of the mildest order, some beer, some charm, and some fantastic songs.
First to shamble onto the stage were Halves, continuing the fine Irish tradition of not saying much at all, and keeping your head down. But thankfully, keeping their head down enabled them to avoid the glare of the increasingly-lubricated crowd, permitting a full concentration of their mental faculties on the task at hand; namely, constructing quite large aural landscapes and wandering through them like a many-headed Godzilla, inevitably knocking down the largest buildings and killing their enemies by the songs’ climax. Indeed, it was a pleasant experience for me, I had not yet seen such a collection of Halves (there was at least fifteen of them) combine to make such a commendable whole, and it was an experience I would care to repeat, if not tomorrow, then the day after, most probably.
After Halves there was a pause for a while, and I bought another drink. It was at least my fourth: a heady concoction of Central American spirits and North American soda that lifted my mood only to hide under it like a koala bear under a big rain-spattered leaf (the rain in this simile is sadness). They should work on that.
Finally, The Middle East took to the stage, and it too at least thirty-five minutes before their dozens of members were on stage and organised. This was also about the same time that my drinking began to get out of hand. I made my excuses to whoever I was sitting with and attended a quick confession in the church down the road. Unfortunately, on my way back the the venue I fell off the wagon, and by the time I was once again sitting up front binging in a fairly dignified fashion, I had picked up a beragged and bedraggled woman and child from some dark corner of Leeson Street, and was feeding them both red lemonade, with promises of burgers for later.
But anyway! The band opened with one of their finest songs, ‘The Darkest Side’, a lonely wanderer of a song if I ever heard one, taking in subject matters such as bereavement, fences, and Sim City. As a drunkard, I was struck by the stage presence of the band, between the lead singers (the Ireland brothers, I believe) and backing singer and keyboardist Bree, whose red hair, soft features and stunning gaze made me want to take up arms and march for Ireland. Please note the aforementioned detail: I was drunk. Ceci ne pas une chipper, as the French might say.
The show went on, and since I might say too much in too positive a fashion, I should point out that there was a genuine flaw: the sound was lacking, even to my confused and worried ears. For at least one song, the vocals were scarcely to be heard; elsewhere the system struggled to deal with the great hurricanes of noise the band produced, and was of little help as they welded it into song before our eyes. Most grievously of all, the grand finale and set highlight ‘Blood’, a song so good I probably wrote it, was marred by the unexpected entry of the legendary Leeson Street ghost, who presumably died after being subjected to a horrible crackling noise for hours on end, as that was the guise in which he chose to appear this night. Thankfully the band got it together to drown out his noise, and there’s little that can be said against their performance apart from the fact that their best songs are quite a bit better than some of their other songs, and one less member of the band agreed to marry me than I would like.
I’m not sure how I got home in the end, or what happened to my new wife and child, though I suspect that, crazed by jealously, she hightailed it out of there with her tail held high. Slowly the memories of the night returned to my foggy head, and I pieced them together as above. It was memorable, it was fine, it was at times utterly beautiful. Still, I remain confident that this band will do better. Probably when Bree starts returning my letters.