Mark Wystrach, Jess Carson and Cameron Duddy – better known as Midland – have been wowing fans in the UK with their neo-traditional country sounds since back in 2018, when they made their UK debut at C2C: Country to Country. Since then they’ve been frequent visitors to these shores, most recently in May 2022 with their ‘Let’s Try This Again!’ tour (postponed a whopping four times due to the pandemic), and also topped the UK country albums chart with their third LP ‘The Last Resort: Greetings From’. Last night they were back on the C2C main stage, this time second on the bill to Lady A.
If I’m being honest, I was a little apprehensive about this set when it was announced. To be clear, this is absolutely not a dig at Midland – they’re a fantastic live band and we’re lucky to have them as such frequent visitors to the UK – but when I’ve seen them before, it’s been in much smaller venues where they can bounce off each other more easily and let out their irrepressible energy. The question was whether that was going to translate to the much bigger O2 stage.
However, after the trio arrived to an atmospheric intro featuring a guitar riff straight from an old Western movie and some dramatic drum rolls, before launching into ‘If I Lived Here’ from ‘The Last Resort: Greetings From’, I knew I needn’t have worried. The song’s stomping rhythm and rollicking melody, which builds to a huge crescendo, allowed all three band members to show off their musical talents and got the whole arena up on their feet singing and clapping along. It was the perfect choice of opener and set the template for the next 70 minutes of music – especially after Mark nixed their planned second song, asked ‘do you guys want something fast?’ (to roars of crowd approval) and went into the tongue-in-cheek ‘Mr Lonely’ from their sophomore album ‘Let It Roll’.
One thing I always love about Midland live is that everyone gets a chance to shine, with Cam and Jess both getting solos this evening. Cam’s was Thin Lizzy’s classic ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’, which he introduced with his aim of getting the crowd up on their feet and included a killer bass lick as well as an audience sing-off. Not to be outdone, Jess took on ‘Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)’ by Garth Brooks, which highlighted the depth in his vocals (more of this in future please!), whilst Mark covered tracks including a soulful spin on ‘Wichita Lineman’ and a rollicking rendition of Jerry Reed’s ‘East Bound And Down’ – which has rapidly become a staple of their shows.
That said, there was still plenty of room from original tracks from across the band’s three albums. The bittersweet ‘Out Of Sight’ injected old school honky-tonk vibes early on, whilst ‘Sunrise Tells The Story’ shone with its sultry groove and vivid, detailed lyrics and ‘Adios Cowboy’ had a lovely wistful feel. Elsewhere, ‘Burn Out’ provided a slowed-down introspective moment – a contrast to the barnstorming, high-energy rendition of ‘Longneck Way To Go’ which followed – and the 70s-influenced ‘Cheatin’ Songs’ saw Mark slinking and spinning about the stage. He is an absolutely mesmeric frontman and it’s clear his performance skills have come a long way since the band’s early gigs here.
For me one of the major highlights was the band’s rendition of ‘Drinkin’ Problem’, their debut single. Mark introduced the song with a heartfelt story of how it was written and how the band has been blown away by the response it’s had, before sitting on stage to perform the track and then jumping down into the crowd, taking selfies with fans along the way. It really showed how strong the connection is between Midland and their UK audience, and why they hold British crowds in such high regard.
After performing ’14 Gears’, which featured Cam on drums, an incredible high note and Mark encouraging the audience to ‘sing like we’re in your living room for Christmas supper’, the band closed their set with their take on Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’. It might seem like an unusual choice, but its haunting feel works absolutely perfectly and the brilliant guitar riff shows just how skilled they are in musical terms as well as being performers.
Overall Midland have absolutely stepped up their game from their last C2C performance and completely owned the stage for the whole of their set, which they completely mixed up from their shows back in May. I thought they got the balance of the show exactly right and had the entire O2 singing and swaying along whilst getting them in the mood for Lady A’s headline set, as well as showing off their own incredible musical talents. If I had some criticisms, it was that Mark’s vocals got lost occasionally in the mix and that I would have perhaps liked to hear another one of their original uptempo songs instead of a cover. But it was a fantastic return for them and I hope that we’ll see them back on that stage very soon indeed. Maybe as 2025 headliners after their next record? You never know…
Set list: 1. If I Lived Here 2. Mr Lonely 3. Out Of Sight 4. Playboys 5. Sunrise Tells The Story 6. Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old) (Garth Brooks cover) 6. Cheatin’ Songs 7. The Boys Are Back In Town (Thin Lizzy cover) 8. Adios Cowboy 9. Wichita Lineman (Glenn Campbell cover) 10. East Bound And Down (Jerry Reed cover) 11. Burn Out 12. Longneck Way To Go 13. Drinkin’ Problem 14. Fourteen Gears 15. Wicked Game (Chris Isaak cover) Performance date: 11th March 2023