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Last Sunday night I went to see The National at The Palais in Melbourne. A post about The National’s show is still on its way, but opening band The Middle East were so wonderful that I thought they deserved to have a post in their own right, rather than just a couple of paragraphs that you lot skimmed over on the way to reading about the main event. These guys were bloody fantastic too!

The Middle East are an Aussie band from Townsville that I had virtually no knowledge of. I’d heard their name and I reckon I’d probably caught a tune or two on Triple J before but I couldn’t name a single song or tell you anything about them. The great thing about this particular type of ignorance is that you listen with no preconceived notions or expectations. There were some good signs as they emerged on stage though – heaps of mic stands and many extra instruments including a banjo, an accordion, a xylophone. Anything outside the standard four or five piece lineup is always more than fine in my book, and when I counted seven band members I figured we’d be in for a top show.

I wasn’t wrong. I can’t tell you the names of most of the songs, but their sound spanned from slow burning alt-country type numbers with big guitars and thumping drums and beats made for stomping, to dreamy acoustic songs featuring gorgeous boy/girl harmonies. The drummer was wonderful, right into it, and one highlight included every member of the band turning to him and playing to him like he was some kind of king or tribal chief or something. Seriously good stuff.

I don’t know any of the band member’s names I’m afraid because their website is a bit sketchy, but I was also very taken with the bearded gentleman who seemed to be in charge of playing all the extra percussion instruments, including one of those bottle cap stick things that he thumped up and down on the stage like a mad thing. He was also responsible for all the accordion action and I think he may have been playing a horn of some description at one point as well. These talented people really make you sick, don’t they?

The crowd was fairly thin when they came on stage – many seats were empty, with loads of people partaking in the bar upstairs, and I’m sure many other empty spots belonged to people who are just weird and don’t bother coming for the support act which is something I can never wrap my head around. You come along early, and if the support band is dodgy, then fine, nick off for a drink if you need to, but give them a chance! By the time they’d performed their first couple of songs though, people gradually started to realise that this lot were a bit of alright and that perhaps they were worth a listen after all. By the time they launched into ‘Blood’, which I realised about halfway through was a song that I’d actually heard before, the crowd was very loud in their appreciation and I was stoked to look around the theatre and see that everybody else seemed to have enjoyed them as much as I had.

Now, speaking of the song ‘Blood’ you really really must have a listen to it now, and I recommend checking out the lyrics while you do because it is a seriously gorgeous song, sad and moving and beautifully written. Love it.

Blood – The Middle East

Older brother, restless soul, lie down,
lie for a while with your ear against the earth,
and you hear your sister sleep talking,
say your hair is long but is not long enough,
to reach,
home to me.
But your beard,
some day might be,

and she woke up in a cold sweat on the floor,
next to a family portrait drawn when you were four,
and beside jar of two cent coins that are no good no more,
she lay aside

Older father, weary soul, you’ll drive
back to the home you made on the mountain side.
With that only terrible thing,
those papers for divorce,
and a lonely ring,
a lonely ring,
sit on your porch,
and pluck your strings.

and you’ll find somebody you can blame
and you’ll follow the creek that runs out into the sea
and you’ll find a piece of the Lord.

Grandfather, gentle soul, you’ll fly
over your life once more before you die
since our grandma passed you’ve waited for forever and a day,
just to die,
and some day soon,
you will die.

but the only woman you ever loved,
that got burnt by the sun too often when she was young,
and the cancer spread already to her body and her blood,
and there’s nothing you can do about it now.

The Middle East currently have only one recording available for purchase, the 2009 self-titled EP available for $5 download on their website. Go and get it. Now.