There’s no more reliable gauge of a quality set of music than its ability to give you goosebumps. By the end of the Middle East’s set last Tuesday, I thought I had hives.
The group, a six-piece pop/Americana act (playing with an extra member or two) from Queensland, Australia, have little more to their name than a recently-reissued 2008 EP and a good deal of buzz after hitting the US festival circuit in the past year. (I can’t even find their names on the Internet.) They filled the SPACE stage with members and instruments — keyboards, a handful of guitars, glockenspiel, drums, horns, accordion — and every element was used judiciously. Rarely does a band so large sound so uncluttered and precise.
Their music shares similarities with pleasing relatives — Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver — but it’s gentler and more subtle than all that, if equally dour at times. Three or four sweeping vocalists shared duties, and all joined in the staggering finale “Blood,” whose crescendo begins in whistles and fluttery acoustic guitar and ends in wordless reverie and orchestral triumph. I haven’t been so moved since the last time I saw Grizzly Bear.
Following in these massive footsteps was UK folk ingénue Laura Marling, headlining (surprisingly) the most well-attended show of her tour so far. Simultaneously shy and gregarious (she refused to play an encore, but apologized profusely), Marling’s gray, stormy folk (amplified by a backing band, at times) proved well-suited to the stage. Her voice, a force on record, revealed a more narrow range live, but her fraught narratives and steely command more than compensated.
: New England Music News
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