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):
- Gypsy Melodies -----
- Behold the River -----
- Electronic Dream Plant -----
- The Great American Smokeout -----
- On the Threshold of Eternity
Set list (8:17-8:44):
- Wolves at Night -----
- Now That You're Home -----
- Golden Ticket -----
- I Can Barely Breathe -----
- Where Have You Been?
Set list (8:59-9:41):
- Fear and Loathing on Cape Cod
- Life on the Farm -----
- The Song That Launched 1000 Ships
- Dirty Harry and the Thunderbolts -----
- Haven't Tried It
- American Hearts -----
- If Marcus Garvey Dies, Then Marcus Garvey Lives
- The Stalker -----
- A Friend of Mine
- Long Nights
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):
- Yellow Spider
- A Glass Can Only Spill What It Contains
- Tie Me Up! Untie Me!
- Wolf Am I! (And Shadow) (?) -----
- Messes of Men
- The Dryness and the Rain
- Orange Spider
- Four Word Letter (Pt. Two)
- Son of a Widow
- O, Porcupine
- Brownish Spider
- In a Sweater Poorly Knit Encore (10:48-10:53):
- January 1979