mewithoutYou | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | jeremy-zim.com
Thy Friends Profanely Rage: mewithoutYou celebrates the long homecoming at Underground Arts
Thursday marked one year of mewithoutYou’s most recent record, Pale Horses, and what a year it’s been. When I interviewed frontman and songwriter Aaron Weiss last year before the record’s release, I distinctly remember him saying “Every time we finish one, I’m so grateful and I tell myself ‘never put yourself through that again.’” If there was ever a year that he would choose to lay it all down, this would have been it.
While touring in Canada with Brand New this past month, the band’s legendary bus broke down and had to be left along the way. Just before that, the band parted ways with long-time bassist Greg Jehanian after more than 10 good years together. The two successive blows left the band in an emotional state, not made any better coming on the heels of a year of hard touring: across the US three times, Europe and finally a short Canadian sprint.
Getting the crowd warmed up for the homecoming parade became the responsibility of two new-to-me bands, Sonnderand The Yawpers. Philadelphia’s Sonnder hit the ground running, burning through a short set of proggy, snyth-infused rock ‘n’ roll. Live, they bring a huge presence to the stage, with lead guitarist and vocalist Ryan Wiedman ripping about the stage when he’s not pressed tight to the microphone. The growing audience ate it up, cheering between songs that they didn’t yet know — but definitely wanted to. Hailing from Denver, The Yawpers took a totally different sonic approach. The three-piece was composed of two acoustic guitars and a drum kit, unique to say the least. It’s almost a deep-fried version of our own The Districts, but then deep-fried again after the first round. The Yawpers breath deeply from the legacies of punk, hardcore and classic rock, but exhale something entirely their own — twangy, ripping songs that had the audience headbanging along the whole wild ride.
It was appropriate — or at least ironic, I suppose — that mewithoutYou would open with “Pale Horse” for Thursday night’s headlining slot at the June Red Bull Sound Select Philadelphia showcase. While the track opens Pale Horses, it also speaks to the eternal tenuousness of the band’s existence. “A few more songs, a few more lines,” hoarsely whispers Weiss into the mic, “I thought I’d left that all behind.” Speaking of those we thought who had left it all behind — Greg! The once-retired bassist was on hand to play his final hometown show with the band, smiling his disarming grin from ear-to-ear the whole while. While we know the band is in capable hands with Dom Angelella standing in the gap, it brought an extra tear to my eye knowing this will likely be the last time I see him play with the band, and recalling all the good years we’ve had.
From slow-burner “Pale Horse,” the band proceeded to tear into one of the most intense sets I’ve ever seen them play — ripping through classic Brother, Sister rager “Wolf Am I! (And Shadow)” and sending the packed room into a frenzy. Though never making it as big in their own hometown as some other Philly bands, mewithoutYou have always retained an almost cultish status in the scene. Selling out a room the size of Underground Arts was an easy task for them, and I don’t know why I was surprised to see the line wrapped around the block when I arrived just before doors at 7:30. The old songs flowed like wine, with even a hard, deep cut from A–>B Life making an appearance, the tragically beautiful “Gentlemen.” The track really lets the band’s sonic strength flex to the maximum — with lead guitarist Mike Weiss unexpectedly jumping straight at the surging crowd and raising his guitar over his head, screaming the savage lyrics.
With a rich setlist comes tangible proof of a band that has evolved in many, many ways down through the years. Raw power became subverted with lyrical subtly as the sands of time shifted forward, but mewithoutYou never quite lost the fiery energy that they started with. Even in lighter freak-folk tracks from the It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All A Dream! It’s Alright. years such as”The Angel of Death Came to David’s Room,” Aaron slowly mounts up an impassioned, acoustic critique of one of the Hebrew scriptures greatest figures — all while playing at the inevitability of death. In cuts from Pale Horses, the thrash is in full effect — but emotions still run high. Most notably, the unbearably powerful combination of “Red Cow” into “Dorothy,” performed exactly as it appears on the record. While fans recovered from the absolutely massive hits of “Red Cow,” the band quickly switched gears into maximum-vibe mode, to provide the chilling base-layer for Aaron to barely whisper the crushing lyrics of “Dorothy.” As a track that I never expected to hear live — as well as my most emotional moment of Pale Horses — the moment was truly devastating. It was a haymaker, and one that came to bear much faster than I could have expected.
Things didn’t let up from there, either. Absolute classic “January 1979” came next, and the fans responded in kind — belting every last line back to Weiss in turn. The community that this band has at its fingertips is unreal, people who take the time to care about every breath, every detail — and Weiss wields it like a champion, reacting to each reaction he receives. The hectic pace set up by “January 1979” continued at a breakneck speed, with the band rocketing through the tidal wave of “Bears Vision of St. Agnes,” and into the hypnotic in-the-round chorus “All Circles,” to close out the joy-filled set.
After one or two minutes of frantic applause and screams, the hometown heroes came back out, smiling, waving and bowing low the whole way back to their setup. Weiss, in typical fashion, took a minute to thank everyone for being in attendance, as well as those who made the event possible. “And this one is for John,” he said meekly, before sending the band into the shimmery, haunting “In a Sweater Poorly Knit.” The John he mentioned, is of course our own John Vettese, who helped curate the showcase and DJ’d the evening. Stopping only for a couple of breaths after “Sweater,” Weiss and company launched into “Timothy Hay,” a communal singalong/worship-y jam from It’s All Crazy. There’s no need for a specific faith. Music is enough to unify us.
- Pale Horse
- Wolf Am I! (And Shadow)
- Lilac Queen
- The Angel of Death Came to David’s Room
- Nine Stories
- Chapelcross Towns
- Mexican War Streets
- Goodbye, I!
- Red Cow
- January 1979
- Bear’s Vision of St. Agnes
- All Circles
- In a Sweater Poorly Knit
- Timothy Hay