Disclosure: An environmental activist (didn’t catch the name) put me in a weird headspace for Middle Ground’s poppy, upper-register Americana-lite while the band was still tuning up. With effort, this guy insisted, San Antonio could be the vegan, low-flow-toilet mecca his home state of Oregon has become. Had his proclamation preceded a show in the White Rabbit’s back room, I’d have laughed in this dude’s face, but at the Farm — what amounts to a back yard, where the flip-flopped crowd sits on tree stumps and hay bales, discussing newly launched greenie website echotown.net and sipping Texas beer from a by-donation-only keg — his flower-child optimism seems less deluded.
It’s not Middle Ground’s fault that their music makes a better soundtrack for the kind of party where the keg winds up covered in vomit than an against-all-odds left-wing revolt.
Sometimes-bassist Ross Renker favors the cello instead, and guitarist Emanuel Meza is just as likely to swap for a mandolin, leaving Middle Ground with no low-end to speak of, constructing songs so sunny and light they cast no shadow. Opener “Hell Bent” rides Meza’s decidedly not-evil mandolin riff away from its stated destination, concluding the titular line with “and heaven bound.”
Singer Kelly Miller, who pounds away at a bottle of Southern Comfort between songs, has enough twang and gravel in his voice to sell the band’s Texas country angle, but betrays enough emotional sensitivity in his delivery to’ve fronted a second-wave alt-rock act in the mid-’90s. Solo number “Sometimes,” for which Miller strums his own accompaniment on the acoustic while the rest of the band refills, would be ripe for fresh-new-artist status on VH1, if the network ran anything but Gen-X nostalgia porn these days.
Throughout the set, people with unstyled hair chat hopefully about San Antonio’s progressive future with no trace of cynicism. And I’d honestly believed there was an I-35 checkpoint preventing these types from migrating south of Austin.
“Revolution,” despite its veiled Katrina references and claims that “the revolution’s rising,” is really an appeal to reasonable compromise, lubricated by Sophie Severance’s fluid fiddle accents. Meanwhile, a man helps curious passers-by to balance on a wire strung between two trees; other audience members seem too mellowed to even stand up. Your guess is as good as mine.
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