Wednesday, June 16, 2010

mewithoutYou at The Fonda (6/12/10)

I'm always at a loss as to how to describe mewithoutYou. (Thanks to Kate Montgomery and L.A. Record for the photos) Sometimes variously described as a punk band, a post-grunge band, a Christian rock band (from which I would ordinarily duck and hide), freak folk, or a bunch of homeless dudes. There's an element of truth in each description, but they're all inadequate in defining the full range of this band's gifts.

It was the video for "Paper Hanger" that first caught my attention. Actually it repelled me, before it attracted me...then repelled me again before attracting me again. Let me explain. I thought the lead singer seemed possessed and manic, rambling semi-coherently, alternately screaming and mumbling. Screamers never did anything for me, except remind me of infants screaming for mama after getting lost in the supermarket.

But something in the video kept gnawing at me and made me go back to it over and over, until the lyrics started making sense, and I discovered a poet. I was intrigued, but was a little put off by all the religious references and thought, "Uh oh, a bunch of bible-thumpers". (I was born without the religion gene) But the stories they told were troubling and intense and I wondered if, perhaps, mewithoutYou's lead singer, Aaron Weiss, was a genuine damaged soul...or was he just playing one in a band? Whether he was a recovering drug addict of just someone who'd lost his way and was a homeless wanderer, only added to the mystique. Biographical information on the guy is sketchy and purposely remote.

When I got the album, Catch For Us The Foxes, I listened intently and was completely bowled over, not only by the extraordinary poetry, the amazing raw energy of the band and the intense playing, but I was equally surprised because I liked it so much. This was way out of my usual range of rock and roll taste and I could feel my mind expanding. I will always admire a band that can make me redefine my musical tastes, and that's happened a lot over the last few years.

I also like the fact that mewithoutYou could become loud and grating but suddenly break out with a dreamy hypnotic beauty that could be trance-inducing. Subsequent albums found the band going in a more linear song structure direction, but they were no less of an achievement. Lyrically they deal with the same stream of consciousness life observations that are at times disarmingly naive, but filled with extraordinary wisdom and even occasional flourishes of dark humor.

I managed to overcome fears of a zombie-christian audience and attended a show at El Rey back in November 2006, when they opened for Say Anything, and the crowd was like any other dedicated fan base, so I went back to see them again and again. Their live shows are electrifying and magnificently performed, but I never saw a show to match the one on Saturday night at The Fonda. I caught some of David Bazan's set and enjoyed his strong, raspy vocals, but was a little put off when, unlike mewithoutYou, his lyrics veered toward proselytism.

mewithoutYou is such a tight unit live, and the sound at the venue was so perfect and the setting of The Fonda, with the Bosch murals (seen in photo at right) and the teaming mass of adoring fans who cheered every song, that it made it a transcendental experience. Performing healthy samples from each album I was especially pleased to hear "Torches Together" and "Tie Me Up! Untie Me!" from Catch For Us The Foxes, but it was "Paper Hanger" that moved me to tears. The band was in full flower, with Aaron dancing and twirling and spinning in delight. True to the spirit of dualism, I, both, wish more people knew about them, and am glad they're not more popular, cause it's still easy to get up close.