Vivid Live Review: Spunk Records 20th Anniversary ft. The Middle East – Sydney Opera House (24.05.19)

Vivid Live has always had the ability to pull off some major coups when curating their line ups. Their 2019 edition was no different. In celebration of Spunk Records’ 20th Anniversary, enigmatic Townsville act The Middle East made their return to the stage after an eight-year absence. While there were some magic moments in the night, perhaps eight years was too big a gulf to leap to recreate the magic of the biggest band that never was.

The Spunk Records celebration wasn’t limited to just The Middle East, with Machine Translations opening up proceedings before Holly Throsby and Jack Ladder combined for a duet set. With the crowd rolling in early for the entrée acts, it was clear from the merch tables and general vibe of those in attendance that everyone was there for the main meal; The Middle East.

As un-Googleable as always, it was only in the days preceding their return that The Middle East truly acknowledged their unexpected return to the stage. As a band that seemingly always had internal problems (or so I’ve read), it was always going to be interesting to see how they’d perform on the night of their return after almost a decade away. Would they live up to the hype they built from 2008-2011 or has the cult of personality surrounding this fabled troupe of musicians developed beyond anything they could truly deliver? Unfortunately, it seems as though the magic that disappeared in 2011 remained lost in the following years and has failed to find its way back.

Going into the night, for a lot of people, you only had these stories and tales to truly help gauge what The Middle East ever truly would be like in a live setting. With many of their songs being sprawling and infinite folk masterpieces, would these tracks translate into a live setting? Would the longing of waiting eight years to see a band again (or for the first time) really live up to the hype? Would “Blood” be as magical and rewarding as all your dreams hoped it would? Three for three, the answer was a resounding no.

Playing with fourteen people on stage helped give the music many intricate parts and depths that probably couldn’t have been delivered with a traditional four or five-piece band. Individually, most of the band did their job brilliantly. Bree Tranter, the multi-instrumentalist wizard was the definite MVP of the night, whilst lead vocalist Jordan Ireland struggled with fronting the band, as his vocals were generally very average and many of his lyrics almost inaudible.

The few memorable parts of the night centred around their more upbeat tracks, with “Jesus Came To My Birthday Party” a mid set surprise and was delivered and received fantastically. It was the best track of the night. “The Land of the Bloody Unknown” fitted in nicely right at the beginning of the set, and as one of their shorter tracks, helped break up what at times felt like an incredibly monotonous set.

The biggest disappointment of the night came in the form of “Blood”. This was a track that has had ten years to develop such a cult following that it will probably go down as one of the better songs released this century. For ten years I’ve listened to “Blood” hoping to one day see it in all its aural glory. To have it delivered and gutted the way it was left me feeling empty and near bereaved. Almost unrecognisable, this could have been the most disappointing moment of an underwhelming set.

Taking this all into account, the band did receive a standing ovation from the crowd at the end of the set. Maybe my views were in the minority? I truly hope they were. The only thing I can take from this experience is that little spot The Middle East managed to nestle into my memory from a decade ago. The Middle East don’t owe me anything; I get that. It was always going to be difficult to live up to the hype developed and envisaged by fans in the time that’s passed since they broke up at Splendour 2011. But hey, at least we have the recordings of the band to fondly look back on. There’s some nice sentiment there.

TWO STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Vivid Live goes from May 24th to June 15th, 2019. Head HERE for more details.

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