Mild Orange give ‘Foreplay’ an admirable effort, but there’s just a little too much fumbling around in the dark.
The crowd in a relatively busy Kantine am Berghain seemed buoyed by an expectant energy. A buzz of chatter permeated the room over tinned music. The nervous joy of anticipation, the thrill of being a select few about to witness a band so new and hip that their first ever international show had been only four days prior. Mild Orange have come a long way since their debut release only last year, in both a literal and figurative sense. The album has been talked up in indie circles and received widespread airplay. Not to mention it’s some distance from their native New Zealand to one of the most hyped venues in Berlin.
However, it became apparent on this showing that it may have been a step taken slightly too soon. Taking the stage just a little too cautiously, setting up and exchanging nervous looks with each other, the band appeared awed by these surroundings. The audience cheered enthusiastically, but this did little to dissipate the apparent nerves. “Hallo Berlin, wie gehts?”, said singer Josh Mehrtens and they launched into Down by the River taken from their debut album ‘Foreplay’. The audience responded well, immediately finding the groove of the song. Danceability is something Mild Orange do well.
The merits of ‘Foreplay’ have been espoused by this reviewer at a previous opportunity, however in short it is the easy blend of humour, sex appeal and music hooks that makes it such an effortless debut. It is a shame, therefore, that their live show so obviously lacked two of these three central aspects. The musical chops of each member are without question. Mehrtens alternates effortlessly between Jeff Buckley falsetto and Dan Auerbach growl. The rest of the band kept things tight and dance-y. Throughout the set, the bulk of which is from their debut, Mild Orange do an admirable job of replicating the album’s sound.
It was all the more disappointing, then, that between songs things seemed so stilted. Mehrtens seemed to approach the microphone with trepidation. The bass player looked vaguely ill-at-ease in his own skin. The few pieces of audience banter fell flat or were recited from a well versed script. After an especially long tuning pause, saying “how are we doing tonight?” could’ve been a wry self-aware gag. However, it was delivered with a sincerity that was funny for the wrong reasons. The energy throughout the audience diminished through the first half hour. The €25 cover looked at this point a fairly misguided outlay.
Mild Orange fumbled with their role as providers of entertainment with the nervous enthusiasm of a teenage boy unhooking a bra strap. This isn’t to say the songs on the album weren’t performed well, if mechanically. They were too often extended into jams and became baggy, as was the case for ‘~Outro’. Standout ‘Stranger’ recovered from a botched intro by Mehrtens. The few departures from the album painted a confused picture. New song, ‘First Taste of You’ was a departure from the album sound into a more conventional indie direction. An extended cover of a house track went on too long, adding little to the show.
As the show drew towards its latter stages, Mehrtens mimicked the spoken intro to ‘Some Feeling’, “we were making love / but just getting started”. His anxious, mumbled delivery spoke volumes. One mention of a German TV show they’d watched in school aside, this set was devoid of audience connection. It all felt a little rushed and immature. This is not to dismiss the obvious talent and potential that Mild Orange boast. On the contrary they have released a debut jammed with great songs. However, they need a few more years of gigging to cut their teeth. Like everything else, ‘Foreplay’ may get better with practice.
Often musicians and artists are lambasted for their galling self-belief. However, this gig made a strong case for the latter being a vital component of musical greatness. For all his swaggering twattery, Liam Gallagher can bear the expectation of any given crowd on his shoulders. If you’re commanding the attention of so many people it can be problematic to be a shrinking violet. And, in this case, at least, it added to a general anticlimactic feel to proceedings. The set was short but felt long. The audience’s expectations left quite unfulfilled. Nevertheless, who’s to say that in time Mild Orange might not become just as arrogant as their music deserves.