Midlake set up so much equipment at the Rock & Roll Hotel Wednesday night, it seemed as if there would hardly be room onstage to stand. Once the Denton, Tex., quintet finally squeezed in behind the multiple synthesizers, keyboards and guitars, the band members almost resembled aberrant backwoods scientists, ready to blast the capacity crowd with death rays. But unless you consider 1970s-style soft-rock lethal, the bearded men of Midlake were harmlessly docile. Unfortunately, most of their set wasn't much more compelling than a tune by England Dan and John Ford Coley.
Midlake's breakthrough second album, "The Trials of Van Occupanther," has earned the band critical hosannas and some high profile pals -- actor Jason Lee has become one of its biggest backers. Midlake frames its '70s influences -- Firefall, ELO, Fleetwood Mac -- in a style similar to defunct eccentrics Grandaddy, replete with tight harmony singing. It reproduced those effects in such songs as "Roscoe," "Van Occupanther" and "Head Home" during the hour-long set, but they were essentially copies of the recorded versions. Beyond the pulsating "Young Bride," the night's "Occupanther" tunes were rendered with little forceful emotion.
A new composition (a piano choogler called "Children of the Ground") and two songs from "Bamnan and Slivercork" (the band's more overtly psychedelic first album) were the lukewarm set's highlights. "Balloon Maker" warbled with a Beatles-circa-'67 vibe and "Some of Them Were Superstitious" rang freshly, with lead singer Tim Smith displaying a clear understanding of what was great about Syd Barrett. If Midlake had applied that kind of energy to its best-known songs, its stay at the charming Rock & Roll Hotel would have been far more interesting.
-- Patrick Foster
Arianna and Eugenia Zukerman
A recital full of opera-size grandeur and quirky individuality is rare. Fortunately, it does exist, as the mother-daughter duo of flutist Eugenia Zukerman and soprano Arianna Zukerman demonstrated in Wednesday night's eclectic program at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
Arianna Zukerman possesses a remarkable voice that combines the range, warmth and facility of a Rossini mezzo with shimmering, round high notes and exquisite pianissimos that would make any soprano jealous. An intense presence with sparkling eyes, the younger Zukerman showed an affinity for drama through vivid characterizations and smart use of vocal color in Pauline Viardot-Garcia's emotionally charged "Plainte d'amour" and a set of Reynaldo Hahn songs, including the sentimental "Si mes vers avaient des ailes."
Generally, however, the Hahn pieces proved better suited to her temperament than to her voice. Her lyric sound failed to flesh out the simple, sustained melodies, and her pitch occasionally sagged, especially at the ends of lines. Three Bach arias posed the opposite problem -- a great fit vocally, they came across as inappropriately histrionic.
The Bach seemed much more natural for Eugenia Zukerman, whose dignity and nuance offset her daughter's youthful exuberance. She found an interesting, if less accessible, showpiece in Richard Rodney Bennett's "Six Tunes for the Instruction of Singing Birds," which showed a great range of dynamics, intellect and creativity. Her rendition of Cecile Chaminade's Concertino, Op. 107, was notable for a sensuality and bravado that defied her flute's cool timbre. Pianist Joy Schreier provided ideal support.
From the billing, one might have expected lovely, but staid, forgettable music fit for a tearoom. Instead, the Zukermans' performances, despite a few messy moments, were unfailingly dynamic and displayed refreshing, captivating fervor.
-- Ronni Reich