Mew & The Dodos @ Venue Nightclub – September 29th 2015

It has been an incredibly long time since I have gotten a chance to see Mew live, so it was pretty appropriate that the first words I heard Meric Long from opening band The Dodos say were, “Are you guys excited to see Mew? So are we, and we’ve seen them 8 times already!” This was what I gather as being a few songs into their seemingly very-short set, meaning this is another show that started on time or possibly early. Vancouver is getting better at this! Long went on to talk about his love of congee (a Japanese rice porridge dish) and invited everyone along with him to go eat congee at his favourite 24-hour place in nearby Richmond that they were going to “right after this.” In the meantime, this was my first experience with The Dodos. Just two of them are on stage – Long, who takes care of guitars, vocals and loops, and drummer Logan Kroeber, whose kit was perched at the front of the stage. The pair call San Francisco home. For two guys, the sound they produced was pretty impressive. The looping in this set was quite unique as well – using subtle layers to build up a song, rather than just emulating additional instruments in the mix. A song called “Precipitation” did this beautifully, and even if you listen to the song on Youtube or iTunes or something, you will get the idea of how magical it was to see and hear those sounds put together live. That song had a stunningly explosive ending. Their set must have only been 5 or 6 songs, just scraping the underside of half an hour, and soon they left the stage to Mew. This is not a band I would have picked as an obvious opening band choice for a band like Mew, but they were super fun to watch, and seem to have made an impression on folks. Indeed, some of the people up front were singing along, so they brought out a goodly pile of existing fans.

Mew’s stage set-up was impressive before they even came on stage. Acres of pedals, keys, drums, a table full of percussion and I’m-not-sure-what-else and stacks of amps cluttered the space. I was starting to notice the audience was an incredible mix of people, from metal guys, to bros, to every Danish person in town, to hipsters, to gearheads and live-recorders, to mom-and-dad’s-night-out-from-the-burbs couples. A huge, 3-page set-list was taped to the floor. The final touch to the stage was their roadie bringing out the showtime beverages for the band. Instead of the usual booze you’d see placed at the foot of each microphone, he came out five or six times carrying cans of Redbull and Diet Coke, in addition to water bottles, placing usually two of each kind of beverage at each musician’s station. Thirsty bunch. They came out in the dark one by one to cheers, and started the set strong with a new tune called ‘Witness.”

Mew @ Venue © Andy Scheffler
© Andy Scheffler

Holy toledo.

I’m afraid my skills as a writer may not be sufficient to accurately describe how face-meltingly incredible this band’s sound was. When I saw them before (and I know they have been in Vancouver since), it was at Richard’s, a bar that no longer exists. They were great then, but I don’t remember them being nearly this loud, intense, or jitter-inducing. Maybe it’s all that Redbull. They have all the right ingredients up there – a well-coordinated all-black wardrobe, chilling vocals and shocking harmonies, big, drifting, comforting sounds, incredible energy that makes them fun to watch, a good rapport with the crowd, and unexpected tempo changes that keep you on your toes. The Venue stage is fronted by a solid row of amps that sit just under the lip of the stage that were spitting forth the deep bass produced by Johan Wohlert. The bass just shuddered through you, vibrating the floor and making it a bit of a challenge to stand at times (certainly to stay steady to shoot!). I was over the moon when they blended “Special” and “The Zookeeper’s Boy,” both songs from 2006’s “And The Glass-Handed Kites” as their third and fourth selections. Hearing these old favourites reimagined as BIG, churning tunes was a treat, and the harmonies by all the band members during “The Zookeeper’s Boy” in particular were stunning. I might have been one of the earlier fans of them in North America, not because I sought them out, but because at the time I was still writing about music, and was sent no less than 4 copies of “And The Glass-Handed Kites” plus some singles in various forms by their Canadian distribution label to review, even though this was already, going by current album count, halfway through their recording career. I was hooked instantly. I am surprised though to see them making seemingly lateral moves over almost a decade now, still playing clubs in Vancouver of the same size as then. It is utterly criminal that this band isn’t playing stadiums, where they could spread that sound out and fill an even greater space… but at the same time, I’m a bit pleased that we can still see them in a relatively intimate setting.

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Lead vocalist Jonas Berre is a surprising character. He still has these boyish looks with big, bewildered-looking soft eyes and a hint of a grin on his face at all times. His voice is so soft and high and lilting that it sometimes gets lost in the wash of noise, but usually sits perched on top of it. The whole package comes across as this being a really gentle soul… and then your eyes scan down his black-clothed body to see his feet encased in massive combat boots. He slowly walks about the stage with one hand always curled up at shoulder height as if gripping an invisible apple, sometimes picking up a tambourine, and even adding to the guitars on a few songs. Longtime keyboard player Nick Watts, looking a little bit like Hagrid, is taking care of the washy synths and cool sounds, but also sometimes picks up a guitar, or just randomly runs out from the keyboards to stand at the front of the stage and clap his arms in the air. From where I was standing, I unfortunately could barely see drummer Silas Utke Graae Jørgensen behind his impressive wall of cymbals. It was hard to take your eyes off of Wohlert and new guitar play Mads Wegner. I was stationed basically at Wegner’s feet the whole time, so had a really good chance to get impressed with him. He has only joined the band on tour this year after longtime guitarist Bo Madsen left the band in July. In just a couple months, Wegner has absolutely picked up the songs and become a huge presence on stage. His high-kneed stomping while playing seemed to almost be the cause of that crazy vibration that rattled the floor and shifted the air out of the amps in front of me, and I think I nearly got kicked in the face a couple times. His vibe with Wohlner, who often struts across the stage behind Berre to interact with him, makes them seem like old friends. If you didn’t know any better, you’d certainly think he was the original guitarist.

Mew @ Venue © Andy Scheffler
© Andy Scheffler

During the well-received “Snow Brigade,” someone pitched a Danish flag on stage. Berre grabbed it and draped it over his microphone for the song, and then thanked the anonymous gifter after the song. The roadie came out again to take the flag, and draped it across the lid of an open road case beside the stage. During a bridge shoved in the middle of “Clinging To A Bad Dream,” Berre softly started to sing the are you/my lady, are you? line from “The Zookeeper’s Boy” again. He teetered at the edge of the stage, leaning over the crowd and telling everyone, “You know this, you can do it,” and encouraged them all to sing. The refrain rose slowly from the audience, and Berre grinned as he held the mic over them and walked the stage edge. Wohlert actually does a lot of the onstage banter, and after that 7-minute-ish opus, he spoke up, saying, “Woo, that song is so long, it takes your breath away!” They then went into “Am I Wry?” off of 2000’s “Half The World Is Watching Me” album. A two-song encore included “My Complications” and “Comforting Sounds.” Appropriately, sounds of a million guitars, cellos, and synths poured off the stage. As the final notes rung in the air, the band members emerged from behind their instruments and approached the front of the stage. Happy hands reached up to shake theirs until all five were gathered, where they stood arm-in-arm and bowed, smiling, before walking off the stage one final time.

What a show. This one tops my list for the year so far. I hope they come back a little sooner than six years this time, and it might be one of those bands worth going on a min-tour to some other nearby cities as well. Just outstanding – words really do fail me to express how outstanding, so you better go see for yourself!

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