The Denton, Texas, band Midlake has pulled off a rare feat — losing its primary singer-songwriter (Tim Smith) and emerging with a strong new album (Antiphon). Playing Thursday night (Dec. 5) at Schubas, Midlake also proved that it can still play the music from its earlier albums just fine. Guitarist Eric Pulido has taken over as Midlake’s new lead singer, and his vocal style isn’t too far removed from Smith’s. His harmonies — and the singing by the rest of Midlake’s virtuosic players — were always part of what makes this artsy folk rock band’s sophisticated, haunting music so special.
During Thursday’s show, Midlake played several of the new Antiphon songs, but it didn’t shy away from the old material, even playing the early song “Kingfish Pies” (from the 2004 album Bamnan and Silvercork) — the weird little anthem that attracted my attention to Midlake in the first place. And of course, Midlake performed key tracks from 2010’s The Courage of Others and 2006’s The Trials of Van Occupanther, the album that stands as its masterpiece. Flute melodies, guitar arpeggios and vocal harmonies meshed into enchanting forest folk music and soaring, powerful rock.
The opening act was another artist from Denton, singer-songwriter Sarah Jaffe, who was accompanied by Midlake drummer McKenzie Smith (who also produced her recent songs, “Satire” and “Defense”). Turning up the volume on her electric guitar, Jaffe pushed her usually mellow songs toward a more hard-edged sound as the set progressed.