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Live Review: Nature had another plan and failed to run it by mewithoutYou

mewithoutYou concerts are an experience like no other. At least, that’s what my friends who have been lucky enough to see the band have told me. This past Sunday and Monday, I finally got to see them live. No, I wasn’t in the room – Union Transfer, Philadelphia does look like a fabulous venue, though – I watched from home via a fantastic livestreamed concert on Dreamstage. 

I bought tickets as soon as the band announced these two shows – night one was entitled The Beginning Of The End, and night two was a special Brother, Sister anniversary gig. The album first released in 2006, and mewithoutYou were planning a Brother, Sister tour before the COVID-19 pandemic hit American shores. The tour was put on hold, as was the band’s ending. So, now that I have finally seen my favourite band, albeit from my bed and later, the dining table, do I agree with my friends’ sentiments?

Night One: The Beginning Of The End

My goodness, do mewithoutYou know how to organise a brilliant setlist. Knowing the band had vowed to keep a “no repeats” policy at Union Transfer made me feel giddy. Even so, I couldn’t have expected the quiet ‘2,549 Miles’ leading into roaring renditions of ‘Torches Together’ and ‘January 1979’. mewithoutYou ended up playing eight tracks from their 2004 album, Catch For Us The Foxes over two nights, with Aaron Weiss’ trademark yell sounding like he’d come straight from that year.

Night #1 was full of “hits” – if that’s what you would dub their all-time greatest songs. Their 2015 album, Pale Horses, was also represented well on the first night. The animalistic, fiery ‘Red Cow’ was suitably mind-blowing, and Dreamstage livestream member @cymbals managed to manifest ‘Dorothy’ to follow immediately. ‘Lilac Queen’ – which hasn’t been played live since 2016 – marked a wonderful chaser to set highlight ‘Seven Sisters’, too. Weiss later performed a solo first verse of ‘Cardiff Giant’ (from 2012’s Ten Stories) before the band charged into a transcendental rendition of ‘Mexican War Streets’.

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While they sadly only performed two tracks from their 2018 untitled LP and EP – ‘Julia (or ‘Holy To The LORD’ On The Bells Of Horses’ and ‘Bethlehem, WV’, respectively – and just two tracks from 2002’s A-B Life (‘Gentleman’ and ‘Nice And Blue’), the encore wound up being just as unique as the main set.

Proving to be masters of post-hardcore, ambient indie-rock and covers alike, mewithoutYou finished The Beginning Of The End with ‘Bethlehem, WV’ – one of their most beautiful songs – ‘Four Word Letter (Pt. Two)’, and a surprisingly perfect take on an R.E.M. classic, ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)’, in which two of my most profound musical universes collided. I never thought that my first time watching mewithoutYou live would be via livestream, but I am thankful it happened. 

Night Two: Brother, Sister

Let’s be honest: Brother, Sister is an objectively weird record. While mewithoutYou are undoubtedly influenced by faith, the inspiration of these songs has never been fashioned to put down non-Christians or atheists. Weiss is a spiritual individual, making Biblical references and applying them to his doubts and experiences throughout Brother, Sister. The album contains a trilogy of acoustic interludes – ‘Yellow Spider’, ‘Orange Spider’, and ‘Brownish Spider’, which is more than unusual.

Initially written as one song, the band separated the track into movements to inspire continuity for an already brilliant album. Becoming a recurring motif, the “spiders” explore belief in all its complex facets, ending the ruminations with “no more me, no more belief.” Better still, the instrumentation is used in a way to foreshadow what will follow; ‘Orange Spider’ indicates horns that will appear on ‘C-Minor’, while the harp on ‘Brownish Spider’ hints at a beautiful reappearance on ‘In A Sweater Poorly Knit’. What other band was making music like this in 2006?

There are two kinds of good album release/anniversary show: that where you’re just so enthralled to hear the songs from your favourite record live, and the phenomenal gig where the band is just as excited to be playing the songs that resonate so deeply with their audience. mewithoutYou’s Brother, Sister show fell into the latter category – watching Rickie Mazzotta aggressively lose himself on drums for the tribal ‘O’Porcupine’, finally witnessing the life-changing ‘Messes Of Men’, the groovy as hell ‘Wolf Am I! (And Shadow)’, the aforementioned harp-led ‘In A Sweater Poorly Knit’ – it was all bloody incredible.

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Even better still was the encore – mewithoutYou really know how to put on an encore. Weiss took the stage unaccompanied for ‘Cattail Down’, last performed in 2017, before the band joined him for the beautiful, forever resonant duo of ‘Tie Me Up! Untie Me!’ and ‘Carousels’ (oh, to catch a bunch of flowers tossed into the audience by Aaron Weiss). They then ripped into the frightening untitled opener ‘9:27 a.m., 7/29’ with a ferociousness that harkened back to the early days of mewithoutYou. Then there was ‘The Soviet’, and holy shit, ‘Rainbow Signs’! My friend Mike left before the second encore, where the show ended on none other than ‘Disaster Tourism’. Rookie mistake. 

Seriously, I don’t know how this band still does it. I don’t know where the energy comes from, how the passion has remained after all these years, how the hell Aaron Weiss can still bark as he does, or how guitarists Michael Weiss and Brandon Beaver manage to find such stunning tones. Furthermore, I don’t know how Greg Jehanian isn’t recognised alongside the best bassists of all time.

I don’t know how the sound engineers working these two nights managed to make livestreams sound as good as they did. For once, a livestream felt like an actual show. The sound, the picture quality, cameras panning over band members and the zealous crowd – it all created a truly unreal experience. I especially don’t know how the band’s manager, Mike Almquist, has kept himself afloat putting together these shows and rolling out merch from his home. I don’t know how mewithoutYou remains the best band ever – they just are.