The Middle East Brisbane Festival Review @ The Tivoli Theatre

The Middle East played The Tivoli Theatre as part of Brisbane Festival on 13 September, 2019.
Solar-powered journalist with a love for live reviews and the challenge of describing sounds with words. Always: cooking, often: thrifting, sometimes: playing the piano, rarely: social, never: late. Living abroad in Japan.

I remember it being late. My parents assumed I was asleep, but I was quietly watching Channel V in the early hours of the morning.

And there, humbly broadcasting on an impressive national scale was ‘Blood’ by The Middle East, dancing across the television screen. I was only 14 years old, but still understood the gravity – an alternative band from my home town were about to ‘make it big’.

That home town was sunny North Queensland, far from a breeder of famous musicians: more a training ground for athletes on the rugby league field.

Although that strange, small-town ‘patriotism’ added to the cocktail of emotions stirring while I waited for the band to surface at The Tivoli Theatre (13 September) as part of Brisbane Festival.

And surface they did, both entirely like and entirely unlike I unexpected: almost falling onto the stage in a crumpled, ten-piece heap. Not unprepared, but clearly un-phased by over-rehearsed routine; plus, there were so many instruments scattered I’m surprised there was room for so many feet.

‘Black Death 1349’ floated by, the leading track of ‘I Want That You Are Always Happy’, the band progressing into the faster-paced ‘Land Of The Bloody Unknown’.

As per the album, ‘Very Many’ followed, one I would often skip in passing, though interestingly one that listening live bared an enormous emotional impact. Not lyrically, exactly, it’s really simply the sheer size of the band; I almost felt bowled over by the spectacular depth of sound.

There were gasps, cheers, and out-of-tune singing as The Middle East played ‘The Darkest Side’, the crowd particularly taken by Bree Tranter’s haunting vocals.

‘Months’ was lovely, drawn out by an alluring introduction; the band pausing to address the audience with a brief: "Thanks for coming. We didn’t know if we would sell any tickets." One fan shouted out in response: “Thank YOU for coming back!” The cheers that followed were deafening, forcing the band to pause for countless minutes.

Another favourite, ‘Jesus Came To My Birthday Party’ seemed permanently etched in memories, many reciting the lyrics word for word, despite the release dating back eight years. As they played, lead vocalist Jordan Ireland quietly introduced the band, and by quietly, I mean without a word, simply gesturing to each member.

The Middle East performed ‘As I Go See Janey’, increasing the tempo with ‘Dan’s Silverleft’, before they subtlety glided into the most anticipated release. I do wonder whether the band acted in rebellion against expectations, afraid to be remembered as a ‘one-hit wonder’, or sick of the one-song recognition.

But ‘Blood’ in all its glory was almost unrecognisable live, lyrics buried beneath unfamiliar sounds, the odd riff appearing here and there. And before the crowd could question whether the rendition had replaced the well-known recording, it was over, already morphing into closing song, ‘Deep Water’.

It feels unfair to finish on an ambiguous note like that; the show really was exceptional, at times completely breathtaking. Now and then the acoustics were muddled by the layering of so many instruments, and occasionally Jordan Ireland’s vocals did seem slightly uncertain.

MORE often, however, song sections were so well crafted I was stunned by their composing; they created moments so rich and full it was impossible not to feel moved.

I find it remarkable how the band have made a permanent mark on the Australian (even national) music scene, with really only one EP and one album at their feet.

Though discography size is no indicator of musical success, the pure adoration of fans that night is proof enough The Middle East HAVE ‘made it big’ – ARE one of the best.

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