“I have a few more songs to play before I release you from this sauna,” joked Madeline Johnston aka Midwife to her sold out crowd at East London’s Cafe Oto on Tuesday night. Armed with her guitar, a pedal board, headphones and her customised telephone mic, she delivered a disarming collection of shiver-inducing sounds for her London live debut, the full extent of which were felt despite the high temperature of the room.
Opening with the beautifully bleak ‘Colorado’ which set the tone for the rest of the gig, Midwife’s evocative, deceptively simple lyrical motifs and guitar loops were entirely hypnotic. Her congregation of listeners were attentive to her considered sounds from the moment she took to the stage, to the point where the noise of ice clinking in a glass felt amplified to the volume of a cymbal smash. Watching the New Mexico-based musician’s considered performance felt like a privileged form of voyeurism.
Fans were granted permission to enter her dream-like, melancholy world, in which introverted tendencies and unrequited yearnings blur and clash with the urgent desire to find connection and understanding. Musing into her telephone mic with her soft vocals, it felt like Midwife was in dialogue with an unknown person at the end of the line, the distance between them simultaneously expanded and minimised as she sang into the receiver, and in front of a room of silent strangers.
Whilst it’s difficult to pick set highlights, tracks from her 2020 album Forever seemed to resonate strongly with the crowd. The tender nature of ‘Language’, the brooding, murky tones of ‘S.W.I.M.’ and the cutting ‘2018’ all left their mark, as well as the poignant opening track on her most recent record Luminol, ‘God Is a Cop’. Pausing to take a picture before her final song – the ambient ‘Sickworld’ – Midwife left her listeners on a pensive, transient note, encapsulated in the lyric: “I’m not here to stay / I’m just passing through”, before breaking the spell by moving to the merch stand to sell t-shirts and vinyl.
Midwife’s London debut was an understated, intensely memorable affair, heightened by the crowd’s willingness to provide her with their undivided, and much deserved attention.
Photo Credit: Cam Smith