Townsville used to be widely known for, well, not a lot. Maybe its heat and its proximity to the Great Barrier Reef, but certainly not its music talent.
This changed in 2009, when The Middle East re-emerged (having briefly split prior to this) and won Triple J Unearthed the same year. They’ve supported Grizzly Bear, played a bunch of festivals, are courting interest in the US, and are steadily becoming one of Australia’s, not to mention Townsville’s, best known exports.
Doing a rather hectic three-week trip around Australia supporting the release of their debut album, I Want That You Are Always Happy, their stop in Adelaide was about a week into the tour. Grand Salvo and Adelaide locals, Leader Cheetah, opened the night and their solid sets demonstrated why they were chosen to support The Middle East for most of the tour. All of Leader Cheetah’s amps stopped working at one point, a performance that the Gov’s fuse box would repeat during The Middle East’s set, but the band simply apologises and carries on.
The adoring crowd at the sold out gig doesn’t let the fact that The Middle East do their own sound check lessen the climax when the band members take the stage to perform. There are plastic bananas inexplicably attached to a number of microphones and the question of why is never actually resolved.
The band opens with more ambient and meandering tracks, and they almost exclusively, though appropriately, play tracks from I Want That You Are Always Happy. Their stage presence is nothing captivating, but there is nonetheless something a bit mystical about this band that’s hard to pinpoint. Perhaps it’s guitarist and vocalist, Rohin Jones waving and swaying his head about to a rhythm that probably only makes sense to him, or their collectively impressive assortment of instruments (including piano accordion, trumpet, banjo and glockenspiel), or Bree Tranter’s flute-playing and lovely melodic voice complementing those of Jones and fellow guitarist and vocalist, Jordan Ireland, or even just the fact that there’s seven of them and none seem gratuitous.
Some of the crowd is unsettled and talkative (read: drunk), but their focus turns firmly back to the band during well-known songs such as ‘The Darkest Side’ and latest single, ‘Jesus came to my Birthday Party’. Their performance is beautifully crafted and fluid, though disappointing is how obscenely obvious it becomes that the encore is written into the set as all but Jordan Ireland leave the stage without even looking at the audience. But the Gov’s fuse box foils their plan.
With the quizzical looks exchanged between members of The Middle East identical to those of Leader Cheetah earlier in the night, it quickly becomes apparent that The Middle East are likewise going to have to contend with technical difficulties. Visibly annoyed, Tranter tells the audience, ‘You pay good money and this is what you get’, while guitarist and banjo player, Joseph Ireland’s comment that ‘Adelaide wattage isn’t cut out for what we’ve got’, is predominantly met with silence, Ireland having apparently missed the memo that only Adelaide natives are welcome to criticise the city.
The other Ireland soon saves the day though, and the mood of both band and audience immediately lifts. A microphone is set up in front of Ireland’s guitar, while the rest of the band huddles around the other microphones. They finish with ‘Blood’, and give new meaning to the term, “acoustic version”.
Jordan Ireland tells the crowd that they haven’t played ‘Blood’ since their US tour over a year ago, making Adelaide the first, and perhaps, only city on this tour where they play their most popular song.
Naturally, the microphone stationed in front of the guitar also gives out at one stage and the audience is a little too overzealous to hush and allow Ireland to (at least attempt to) play without any amplification.
The room sings along and despite the technical mishaps, a few moments of solidarity and beauty remind everyone of why we listen to music.
– Dunja Nedic