mewithoutYou / Piebald - live in New York (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

mewithoutYou / Piebald

live in New York (2007)

live show

Somehow, mewithoutYou is a band that consistently finds themselves in the middle of incredibly solid tour packages. They went out with Sparta and Aloha last winter, Say Anything, Piebald and Days Away last fall, and just prior to that supported Thursday along with Minus the Bear. Adding them to any lineup would immediately conjure images of words like "diverse" and "atmospheric," but this trek with Piebald, the Snake the Cross the Crown and Manchester Orchestra, it was even better and varied than expected.

From my standpoint it seemed every member of the Snake the Cross the Crown took the stage shoe- and sock-less. Despite a polite, modest reception from the crowd, that type of comfortable stage presence cast a pleasant light over the band's set of down-home, feel-good alt-country. The band played the less moodier of their material, tending to concentrate on songs of that type from their newest, Cotton Teeth. Frontman Kevin Jones stood stage right and, in a powder blue `70s suit and thick facial hair, resembled a barefoot Beegee. When a rare roar of audience approval erupted after completion of one particular song, Jones self-deprecatingly responded, "I hope that wasn't in fear." The band played a strong, assorted set that seemed to win over some hearts.

Set list (7:30-8:01):

  1. Cakewalk
  2. Gypsy Melodies
  3. -----
  4. Behold the River
  5. -----
  6. Electronic Dream Plant
  7. -----
  8. The Great American Smokeout
  9. -----
  10. On the Threshold of Eternity
Mark it: Manchester Orchestra could very well blow up. Lord knows (pun somewhat intended) their live performance absolutely floored me. Frontman Andy Hull has a terribly fragile, emotional voice that brought to mind admired songwriters like Colin Meloy, Kevin Devine, Jesse Lacey and Conor Oberst, and would often let his bandmates abandon him in sound while he sincerely pleaded lyrics with his eyes clenched over only his guitar. It would be weird to say The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me had a significant impact on the band since they recorded their own album around the same time, but there were definite similarities (and a seemingly unlikely rumor actually has the influence the other way around; but c'mon, to say the beginning of "Where Have You Been?" doesn't sound identical to the first few notes of "Sowing Season (Yeah)" would be ludicrous). In any event, I was wowed. I got a bit of a Christian vibe, and this was confirmed by a thanks to Jesus in the liner notes of their album I picked up, I'm Like a Virgin Losing a Child; it was hardly anything preachy, though. The band displayed mighty dynamics between their hushed narratives and brawny, electric rockouts. Devine himself even came out to lend a hand on second guitar and backup vocals for the last two songs, replacing a fellow who himself was filling in for a seemingly hospitalized keyboardist. The stunning ending of the set left Hull alone again, practically screaming "my God, my God -- where have you been??" It was nearly ruined by their plethora of bro-ham fans drunkenly hollering and shouting "MANCHESTER!" over Hull's last few, somber lines, but I still got chills. I'm Like a Virgin itself seems pretty good after a cursory spin, but I'm convinced Manchester's power really lies in their live show -- and it's one that needs to be witnessed.

Set list (8:17-8:44):
  1. Wolves at Night
  2. -----
  3. Now That You're Home
  4. -----
  5. Golden Ticket
  6. -----
  7. I Can Barely Breathe
  8. -----
  9. Where Have You Been?
Piebald's We Are the Only Friends We Have, despite being my favorite album of their catalog, was released over five years ago, so I don't think I could ask much of the band; considering they kicked out four jams from it, I was pretty satisfied. While I was admittedly slightly bored by the playing of some of the newer songs, the band kicked it into high gear when "American Hearts" started -- Travis Shettel suddenly mounted his keyboard and hopped down into the crowd, wandering about it and fully encouraging sing-along participation. Outside of that, plenty touring partners and roadies frequently hopped on stage to assist in instrumentation or vocal duty -- it was sort of like a little party. In "Haven't Tried It" he even lassoed up one of his shredding guitarists with the mic cord. Obviously, Piebald was a shitton of fun.

Set list (8:59-9:41):
  1. Fear and Loathing on Cape Cod
  2. Life on the Farm
  3. -----
  4. The Song That Launched 1000 Ships
  5. Dirty Harry and the Thunderbolts
  6. -----
  7. Haven't Tried It
  8. Strangers
  9. American Hearts
  10. -----
  11. If Marcus Garvey Dies, Then Marcus Garvey Lives
  12. The Stalker
  13. -----
  14. A Friend of Mine
  15. Long Nights
Although they omitted several hopefuls ("Bullet to Binary," "The Cure for Pain," "Torches Together," "Disaster Tourism," "Seven Sisters," "The Sun and the Moon," "Nice and Blue (Pt. Two") and played what could be regarded as a relatively short set for a headliner, mewithoutYou definitely fired on nearly every cylinder.

The stage setup was much more minimal than their co-headlining trek with Sparta; only a banner showing off the cover of Brother, Sister was hung in the background, with cardboard cutouts of neither the sun nor the moon hanging from the rafters this time. This was perfectly fine -- Highline Ballroom is a fairly intimate venue at 700 capacity, and has just a big enough stage and floor for the band to really be involved with a still large crowd, and it puts key focus on the band's performance.

For the most part, singer / occasional guitarist / occasional accordionist Aaron Weiss seemed much less nervous than usual. He could usually be found hopping and jumping on the stage from its one end to the other. Perhaps all this touring has given Weiss some new confidence -- he even managed an unsettling, cold stare into the audience at some of the set's more serious lyrical moments. Rare moments found him physically settled; one of them occurred in "Four Word Letter (Pt. Two)," when he simply sat down near his guitarist brother and clutched his accordion during the extended bridge. He continued to bravely convey his personal convictions, stressing one in particular when he slightly altered the lyrics in "C-Minor," shouting, "I'm still very much a virgin after 28 years...!"

As a whole, the band filled every space in the venue with their breathtaking atmospherics as well as their dynamic bursts of intensity. Interesting and impressive transitions alike were executed between songs. The chorus of "The Dryness and the Rain" was even delivered more slowly and dramatically than the studio version -- it really came off like a somber tribal hymn.

In the silent part of "O, Porcupine," the band had to patiently wait a long time for the crowd to finally fall completely aurally dead so Weiss could cleverly whisper, "Listen to it." Just that little part was worth the wait, though.

The drummer gave his usual all, having drenched himself in bodily fluids by just the third or fourth song. In that aforementioned bridge of "Four Word Letter (Pt. Two)," he stood up, deftly pulled his shirt over his face and continued to pound away.

By the supposed end (the epic, absolutely fantastic "In a Sweater Poorly Knit"), a number of unknowns had jumped onto the stage to join in on the closing, soaring "ahh"s. However, one easily recognized member of these additions was Jesse Lacey, who had ran onto stage several songs prior to tape bundles of flowers to each mic stand. It was a nice little cameo.

The band received plenty of calls to come out and play one more, and it was the set's most aggressive: "January 1979," featuring stage dives from members of Piebald and others. Bodies thrashed about wildly and the audience was more alive than ever -- not that they were ever really dull, though.

During the two final songs ("January 1979" and "Sweater"), Weiss was sure to pass some fruit (an orange, an apple, grapefruit and plantains) around to the crowd and encouraged sharing.

Set list (10:00-10:47):
  1. Yellow Spider
  2. A Glass Can Only Spill What It Contains
  3. Tie Me Up! Untie Me!
  4. Wolf Am I! (And Shadow) (?)
  5. -----
  6. Messes of Men
  7. The Dryness and the Rain
  8. Orange Spider
  9. Four Word Letter (Pt. Two)
  10. C-Minor
  11. Son of a Widow
  12. O, Porcupine
  13. Brownish Spider
  14. In a Sweater Poorly Knit
  15. Encore (10:48-10:53):
  16. January 1979
All in all, this was probably the best show I've attended this year. If you're a fan of any of these bands you can't go wrong catching one of these last few dates.