Buried Beds was the opener for this pretty stellar bill involving Old West alt-country maestros Murder by Death and post-post-hardcore-turned-orchestral folk underdogs mewithoutYou. Philadelphia natives Buried Beds were a pretty quaint indie folk-ish outfit that fit well with what mewithoutYou is up to these days. They were nothing I'd hurriedly seek out but they definitely kept my attention for the set's duration (half-hour, give or take) and the crowd stayed observant and receptive for the adorably cheery act and their coed vocals (the girl's pretty cooing reminded me of Jenny Lewis). Members of both mewithoutYou and Murder by Death even came out to help on the last jam.
Murder by Death has admittedly lost my interest some since 2006's arguable career-best, In Bocca al Lupo. But their two full-lengths for Vagrant so far have still been solid efforts, with enough memorable songs to help stockpile a great live set list. And that's just what this was, with Adam Turla's stoicism-smoked baritone even resembling Cash when he merely introduced his band; it carried the band through complementing selections from their last four albums played with their usual grace and quietly rustic coating.
After performing a solo rendition of Nancy Sinatra's "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" on his lonesome, with the rest of his band having exited the stage, Turla said they would get into some drinking songs. The band rejoined him and they broke into the heavy jangle of one of their best and most accessible cuts: "Brother," from Lupo, and the lone representative of 2003's Who Will Survive, And What Will Be Left of Them?, "Until Morale Improves, The Beatings Will Continue," both of which were met with wild, finger-pointing responses. But even newer anthemic tales like "'52 Ford" and "Comin' Home" were received well, and set the stage subtly for the more mystical, tense headliner.
Set list (8:59-9:46):
- Sometimes the Line Walks You
- '52 Ford
- White Noise
- King of the Gutters, Prince of the Dogs
- Steal Away
- On the Dark Streets Below
- Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) [Nancy Sinatra cover, solo]
- Until Morale Improves, The Beatings Will Continue
- Spring Break 1899
- Comin' Home
mewithoutYou built a powerful momentum with their opening quartet of songs, with frontman Aaron Weiss refraining from a syllable of banter until the band had navigated through elder standouts like the majestic "Messes of Men" and chillingly confessional "Tie Me Up! Untie Me!". This appeared to be a stripped-down and more concise set than when the band had last played here, as the only auxiliary instruments used were a keyboard and Weiss's accordion, and the set was a few songs shorter; but the band was often just as mesmerizing. Transitions were clean, sharp and inventive; jam sessions were perfunctory and only heightened the songs' respective anxiety; and Weiss looked and spoke like his usual nervous self, yet stormed the stage with a back-breaking aggression and confidence during livelier displays like "January 1979" and the bridge in "C-Minor." It was all par for the course, though, really.
Weiss tied a bouquet of flowers to his microphone stand at one point, but unlike how he used to throw the individual roses into the crowd, they stayed bundled together before being quickly moved to the drummer's area. Maybe it was a metaphor for the communal messages inherent in "Torches Together," which it seemed the band was playing for the first time in a long time here in New York (close to four years, maybe?). It's a powerful, explosive number, and it made perfect sense to open the band's two-song encore with it.
With every painfully articulated lyric by Weiss and pinched guitar atmospherics from brother Michael, the band was absolutely captivating. Though it's clear mewithoutYou has long grown out of the ragged intensity of their debut, 2002's [A→B] Life, there was definitely a pleasing mix of songs from their other three efforts, and playing them with a certain saunter and dynamism kept the set functional and wholly cohesive.
But adjectives like that seem like they only underscore how the live show functions within mewithoutYou's overall cultural conscience: Their albums are warm, lush and often gut-wrenching affairs with a consistent art history decor, but live they bring out the emotions and dynamics even finer. And the listener, or audience member, is all the better for it.
Set list (10:05-11:00):
- Messes of Men
- Goodbye, I!
- Tie Me Up! Untie Me!
- A Glass Can Only Spill What It Contains
- Bullet to Binary (Pt. Two)
- Son of a Widow
- Timothy Hay
- Disaster Tourism
- The Fox, The Crow, And the Cookie
- The King Beetle on a Coconut Estate
- January 1979
- Allah, Allah, Allah
- Torches Together
- In a Sweater Poorly Knit