mewithoutYou / The Dear Hunter - live in New York (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

mewithoutYou / The Dear Hunter

live in New York (2009)

live show

From Thursday, July 10th through Sunday, July 12th, there was a rather ridiculous number of shows I attended. A half-dozen, to be exact (Agent/Transit; 10 for $10; Brand New; Mission of Burma / Fucked Up; Tragedy/Blacklisted). Here's the one not listed between those parentheticals.

My cousin and I were told the Dear Hunter would go on at 9:30, so when we arrived at 8:30/8:45, we certainly did not expect to see Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground's full set. Lo and behold, the "hardcore show" we'd just left (10 for $10) was running ahead of schedule and this more "standard" "rock" show was running late. Go figure.

It was cool, though, as I enjoy Kay Kay's self-titled as much as the band's activity perpetuates Gatsbys American Dream's hiatus. The nine-piece played through a mix of stuff off that album and what seemed like a few newer songs, and all were incredibly warmly received by the crowd. The band's psychedelic textures were definitely more toned down in this setting, giving more air to the mix of keyboard, brass and string players that littered the stage. The dub transition in "Hey Momma" was pulled off impressively while feelings of camaraderie were obvious as the band all sung along together through other cuts like "Bowie the Desert Pea" and "Birds (On a Day Like Today)." The closing applause from the crowd was prolific; I don't think I've seen an opening band get such a good response in a while.

Set list (9:00-9:34):

  1. Intro ("Into the Realm of the Unknown"?)
  2. Hey Momma
  3. ?
  4. Bowie the Desert Pea
  5. Birds (On a Day Like Today)
  6. Diggin (?)
  7. ?
  8. ?
The Dear Hunter is a band whose music I'd heard brief clips of and knew enough about their history to guess what the set would be like. My take on their full-length is that it's a pleasantly theatrical opus -- not always the most captivating, but a decent listen for what it is. However, the sextet ended up being much more dynamic and enthralling in person than I expected. They played their more catchy and soft-to-loud material and it engaged the crowd perfectly -- one lanky, dancing fellow looked like he had to be on something as he shook and convulsed throughout the set in response to the band's grooves. Although it feels weird drawing more Thrice RIYLs after TDH frontman Casey Crescenzo left a band who received their fair share of said comparisons, I sensed a lot of subtle classic and blues-rock influences just like Vheissu seamlessly incorporated. I do hear a quirkiness, melody style and theatricality of someone like Forgive Durden, though -- more complex than Wonderland, but not as ridiculous as Razia's Shadow. If there are only a handful of TDH songs you dig, it would be wholeheartedly worth seeing them live, as they ratchet out all their best moments into a very compelling and well-played set.

Set list (9:58-10:35):
  1. The Church and the Dime
  2. What It Means to Be Alone
  3. The Oracles on the Delphi Express
  4. Mustard Gas
  5. Where the Road Parts
  6. Red Hands
  7. He Said He Had a Story
The audience had to be sufficiently warmed up by now, and half an hour later mewithoutYou humbly took the stage. I noticed some music stands and chairs set up stage left and wondered who could possibly be using sheet music during the set. My curiosities would be answered later.

But at this point, frontman Aaron Weiss looked out into the crowd with his nervous smile and quietly began plucking the opening chords of a stripped-down "Yellow Spider" with everyone on the floor whispering along. I was nervous that the quirky folk flair of their new album, It's All Crazy! It's All False! It's All a Dream! It's Alright, would also be adapted to their older songs and sort of ruin those ominous atmospheres. My worries were unfounded. When "Yellow Spider" ended, they flawlessly transitioned into the entirely more tense "Four Word Letter (Pt. 2)" (minus the opening shout of the title), and it just worked, suddenly kicking up that melancholic, entrancingly uncomfortable vibe that so many songs on Catch for Us the Foxes and Brother, Sister conjure up. The band suddenly looked enlivened and it was wonderful.

Weiss was in typical spasmodic form throughout the set, usually wildly flailing and dancing about the stage when he wasn't confined to the mic stand by his guitar (or accordion). But he was still that fragile, fixated fellow he's become renowned for. For the entirety of the heartwrenching "Carousels," Weiss sat in one of those chairs in the middle of the stage with his side to the audience, with his head often tilted down, looking as contemplative and thoughtful as the song's pained chorus goes: "If I didn't have you as my guide, I'd still be wandering, lost in Sinai, or down by the tracks watching the trains go by to remind me: There are places that aren't here." It all just seemed very real, and Weiss's other gut-punching admissions were altered so the crowd could stay up to date with him. He modified the closing lyric in "Tie Me Up! Untie Me!" to say, "I haven't even thought about killing myself in" -- ::rolling his eyes up thoughtfully:: -- "a while..."

One of the two or three songs to receive a big reaction was "Messes of Men," but it was so bizarre. For this majestic, Decemberists-esque seafaring narrative, the crowd suddenly bum-rushed the stage and everyone's personal space was ruefully violated. I felt like I was 17 watching Taking Back Sunday play "Cute Without the 'E'" again, and I mean that in the worst way possible.

Nonetheless, if mewithoutYou's other intensely personal, complex and cathartic songs weren't enough, they really punctuated their newer material when they brought out a well-dressed mini-orchestra from their hometown of Philadelphia to join them for the proper set's last three songs. About six combined brass and string players sat down at those seats and placed their sheet music on the stands. They even had a conductor with them. It was a very cool mix before the band faked the goodbye and walked off stage for two minutes.

Encore opener "January 1979" made a lot more sense to instigate bat-shit rapture, while the band followed with two way more serene and calming tracks off It's All Crazy! before perfectly closing with the other majestic, Decemberists-esque cut off Brother, Sister: "In a Sweater Poorly Knit." A backpacked fellow opened up some space on the floor and the audience was happy to flail about one more time while others sung along to its anthemic climax.

Awesome show. If you missed this tour, you missed out. You could probably check out that Weiss family tour, though there's no way it'll be as good as this.

Set list (11:04-12:08 / 12:10-12:32):
  1. Yellow Spider
  2. Four Word Letter (Pt. 2)
  3. Timothy Hay
  4. C-Minor
  5. A Glass Can Only Spill What It Contains
  6. Carousels
  7. Cattail Down
  8. Tie Me Up! Untie Me!
  9. Son of a Widow
  10. O, Porcupine
  11. Messes of Men
    Orchestra comes on:
  12. Goodbye, I!
  13. The King Beetle on a Coconut Estate
  14. The Fox, The Crow and the Cookie
    Orchestra leaves
  15. January 1979
  16. A Stick, A Carrot & String
  17. Allah, Allah, Allah
  18. In a Sweater Poorly Knit