One of the more memorable Cornerstone experiences I’ve had was when I saw mewithoutYou several years ago. They were one of the first bands to play during the so-called “Tooth & Nail Day,” and even though it was “early” show, it was absolutely sweltering beneath the big yellow and white tent. Nevertheless, the band had dressed themselves to the nines, wearing thick wool turtlenecks, suede jackets, and the like, looking like quite the dandies.
Those of us in shorts and t-shirts were absolutely drenched, so I can only imagine how uncomfortable it was for the band. However, the discomfort they must have been under seemed only to fuel their performance, and they delivered an absolutely blistering set. So blistering, in fact, that as soon as the last song was over, the drummer jumped off the stage, tore off his clothing, and collapsed as people poured ice and cold water on him.
That sort of “all or nothing” intensity, while perhaps coming off as a little gimmicky and foolhardy (seriously, who would wear a wool turtleneck in July?), is part of what makes mewithoutYou’s music so captivating for me. I picked up their latest album, Catch For Us The Foxes about a month ago or so, and it’s been in almost constant rotation since. Their music goes right for the throat, sonically and lyrically, and seeing as how it’d been too long since I’d been to good “in your face” concert, I was hoping that mewithoutYou’s intensity would once again come across live.
On disc, mewithoutYou’s music is the very definition of “confined chaos.” There’s always a sense that the band’s songs could burst apart at the seams at any second. And yet they somehow stay together — perhaps because the band tears through their songs at such a clip that they don’t have time to fall apart. Live, there is no such restraint. That abandon that is barely checked, but completely reckless. A lot of this is due to frontman Aaron Weiss. Decked out like a homeless version of Huck Finn, Weiss spent most of his time flailing across the stage, whirling like a dervish and coming dangerously close to knocking over bandmates, mic stands, and drumkits.
Normally, this sort of thing rubs me the wrong way. It did so with Make Believe, who opened the night with a similar shtick. Only in Make Believe’s case, it felt exactly like that — a shtick, and a phoned in one at that. However, in mewithoutYou’s case, such a performance felt entirely appropriate. There is a certain desperate abandon at the core of their music, and so it makes sense when Weiss throws himself all over the stage, works himself up into a lather, and at times, can barely bring himself to string together a coherent string of lyrics.
Most of their set consisted of material from Catch For Us The Foxes, with a handful of songs from their debut, [A→B Life] Life. Which was fine with me. As much as I liked their debut, songs like “Carousels” and “My Exit, Unfair” are an entirely different beast. In concert, these songs become absolute maelstroms, as the band handily moves past their punk comparisons and launches right into the stratosphere with ear-shredding noise.
Case in point: Rather than try to emulate the middle-eastern textures and drones that occasionally color their albums, the band opted for a completely instrumental route. Weiss sat out, catching a breath after dancing and gamboling about the stage, whilse the guitarists set about conjuring up a sloppy, chaotic wave of sound that was nigh-painful for anyone unlucky enough to be standing next to one of the cabinets (like your’s truly). And soon enough, it came collapsing down with a shout as Weiss leapt back up to the mic, his anguished voice trying to be heard above the onslaught (though the fact that it didn’t was probably a result of the poor sound more than anything else).
My only complaint? That the band didn’t perform “The Soviet,” one of my fave tracks from the new album. Or perhaps they did, and I was just too overwhelmed (and deaf) to notice. Ah well… the end result was still a cathartic and exhilirating set.
I have to admit, it did feel a bit odd seeing mewithoutYou in Omaha, and not Bushnell. In that regard, the show was something of a bittersweet experience, bringning back a wave of nostalgia for my Cornerstone-attending years. However, it was a relief for me that, despite being a oft-jaded 29-year-old, mewithoutYou’s music was still powerful enough to compel me to do some flailing about of my own, still overwhelming enough to cause a surge of tears during the “Carousel“‘s crescendoes.