Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
ou can tell a lot about a band from the covers it plays. Many country acts seemingly go rock when it comes to covers. And in the case of the fine traditional country trio Midland, their covers certainly spoke volumes – Garth Brooks' fine tribute to the late Chris Ledoux "Much Too Young (to Feel This Damn Old"), John Anderson's "Seminole Wind," the late Eddie Rabbit's "Drivin' My Life Away," ending the regular set with Jerry Reed's "Eastbound and Down," and two from The Boss – "Tougher Than the Rest" and the closing song of the night "Dancing in the Dark."
In other words, the trio of lead singer Mark Wystrach (lead vocals, guitar), Jess Carson (guitar, vocals), and Cameron Duddy (bass guitar, vocals) knew a thing or two about country's past.
Along with their own material, Midland occupies a sound more squarely in the traditional end of the genre.
Midland even dressed the part with cowboy hats (no, they were not hat act poseurs of yesteryear) and boots. The emphasis for quite awhile, though, was strictly on the song. Over the course of the night, it was clear that Midland has the songs to match their look. "Burn Out," "Mr. Lonely," which sounds something straight out of Dwight Yoakam U (their name comes from the Yoakam song "Fair to Midland"), "Sunrise Tells the Story" and "Two to Two Step," all played early on, all demonstrated a band of musical depth.
And that means there's a lot of twang and pedal steel in the mix, which ipso facto separates them from the country musical pack these days. No drum machines. No hip hop.
Midland was not a band big on flash or gimmickry. Call them unassuming. Simple, but nice lighting accentuated the stage but ultimately it was about the music. Wystrach handled the leads, and he's a good singer without a hint of ego about him. Duddy and Carson often lent vocal harmonies as well to Wystrach.
Now, most bands probably would have closed the regular set with their biggest hit. In this case, "Drinkin Problem." But that was sandwiched among five other songs during the encore. Instead, Midland opted for Jerry Red's fast-paced "Eastbound & Down."
After all was said and done 110 minutes later, it sure seemed like Midland did not want to leave the stage. With Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" playing over the speakers (a nod to Boston where the song was played for years at Red Sox games across the street), Wystrach, Doody and Cason bounded about the stage slapping hands with fans and just generally reveling in the moment.
The covers said something about Midland, and so did their show.
Opener Chayce Beckham started off his show with a cover of sorts, "The Star-Spangled Banner." Perhaps this was done so to show just how patriotic the former American Idol winner is – he later would make reference to what a great country the U.S. – but, in reality, it was an easy appeal to the crowd.
They didn't bite all that much, and Beckham wasn't a particularly interesting or engaging performer. Okay songs. Good voice. But he did not make much of an impression that made you want any more than the 25 minutes he was allotted.
But the subtlety of her songs found on her expanded version disc, "The Dream," and its more dressed down music offering on recordings was lost on this stage. Touring with a band, Whitters leaned more towards rock territory, sounding far more generic than the music found on her very fine CD, somewhat losing what made her music special in the first place.