The Middle East

My kids took me to play putt-putt on my birthday in 100 degree heat. It was so fucking hot, I thought I saw Jesus. But I think I was just having a flashback or going through menopause or something.

Anyway, the now-defunct Aussie band called The Middle East has just put out this video for “Jesus Came To My Birthday Party.” I am pretty pissed off at them for closing up shop as their latest album is phenomenal. And while I typically don’t like videos that make me think, I have forgiven them on the grounds that there is a hot girl in the video – sort of like I did for every Motley Crue video.

If you clicked the link to the Crue video, you’ll see that the symmetry between these two videos is uncanny.

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Australia’s The Middle East were introduced to me via email along with mention of them touring with Mumford & Sons and playing fests like Bonaroo and Coachella. I immediately assumed they were a hyper-energetic folk act with a similar sound that that Mumford & Sons pull off so well. What I was greeted with, however, is an album full of ambiance and beauty.

I put I Want That You Are Always Happy on at work one day expecting to hear banjos and fiddles at full tilt. After 10 minutes or so, about midway through the album’s third song entitled “As I Go To See Janey,” I thought I must have played the wrong album. “As I Go To See Janey” is gorgeously haunting and drew me in to the point that I put down what I was doing and fully concentrated on the album.

Next up was “Jesus Came To My Birthday.” It’s a decidedly more up-tempo song that explores the relationship with Jesus and it’s a lo-fi beauty. Then came the haunting “Land of The Bloody Unknown” blending sounds of Irish folk music, Jeff Buckley-esque vocals and a banjo lick reminiscent of Mumford & Sons that twists and turns throughout the tune.

11 minutes and 30 seconds. That’s the length of those 3 songs and that’s the time it took to make me a very big admirer of The Middle East. This is a stunning achievement for a band putting out their first LP. It’s full of unique folk-rock ideas and each song sounds more fresh and different from the one before. In addition to the aforementioned artists, I’m reminded of a whole host of acts throughout – Grandaddy, My Morning Jacket, Eels, The Low Anthem, etc. I love exploring music from bands that are tough to categorize. I Want That you Are Always Happy is an album that requires exploration. By the time you reach “Hunger Song” and “Deep Water,” you may feel like you’ve discovered treasure.

The Middle East – Jesus Came To My Birthday Party

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Last week I found myself alone in Boston eating clam chowder. I took the T from downtown out to a cool neighborhood off the Central Square stop in Cambridge. Grabbed dinner at The Green Street Grill, which has the best drink menu I’ve ever seen, and swallowed down a couple non-adventurous Smuttynose beers.‚  I was just killing some time before heading to the legendary Middle East to catch Port O’Brien.

Port O’Brien’s MySpace page said the show was going to start at 8pm. I arrived at the Middle East at 6.30pm, thinking I’d have a few more cold ones before show time. I sat down, ordered a PBR and waved down Van Pierszalowski, lead singer of Port O’Brien.‚  He joined me at the bar and said “Whoa, you’re here early.” He then explained that showtime was at 10:30pm. For those of you not strong in mathematics, that’s four long hours from the time my belly first touched the bar. I suddenly felt like Zane Lamprey, except without producers paying my bar tab.

Luckily time flew by, thanks to the cast of characters surrounding me. I made friends with the Middle East staff and local Cambridge artists (planning trivia night for those not entering the show), Scary Jerry and his fishing hat (and his nonsensical stories about Manhattan College hoops), Ole Louisiana (just in town to collect better unemployment benefits than his home state offers), and of course, Van from Port O’Brien.

Van and I talked at length about the band’s East Coast tour and the toll the rising gas prices are taking on the band as they lug their gear across state lines, performing to smallish crowds. I don’t have anything against the headliner of the tour, Bodies of Water, but they are not the type of band that draws sellout crowds in every venue, even though they are east coast natives. They also aren’t the perfect fit for Port O’Brien’s sound. A perfect night would have been Port O’Brien plus The Felice Brothers…

Anyway, the tour might not be creating a windfall for the band, but it hasn’t had an impact on their spirit. They took the stage and tore through a tight set that included most of All We Could Do Was Sing. The many PBR’s make the mind a little hazy,‚  but I do remember being blown away by lead guitarist, Zebedee (Zeb) Zaitz. In addition to having an incredible name, he adds great intensity to the band. And then there’s Cambria and Van, the most interesting couple in indie music. Van always gives it his all in every performance and Cambria brings a quiet elegance to the stage with her banjo.

The highlight of the night was watching people in the crowd join the band on stage with pots, pans, and tribal chants for “I Woke Up Today.” An amazing night of music for me.‚  I even dragged Ole Louisiana, a die hard country music and Kenny Chesney fan, into the show with me. He had trouble understanding the words, but fell in love with the band. He begged me to email him some POB tracks, but I lost his email address immediately. Here are some mp3’s for you, Ole Louisiana.‚  You’re my boy, Blue. You’re my boy.

Thanks also to super-talented photographer, Angelina Santana, for hooking me up with the photos. Much better than my handy-work from past concerts. You can see more of her POB pics here.

Port O’Brien – Close the Lid

Port O’Brien – I Woke Up Today

Make sure to check out our live session with Port O’Brien.

And here’s the video of “I Woke Up Today” Port O’Brien shot for us outside of Oakland with random pedestrians joining the fun.

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