February 1, 2016

Concert review: mewithoutYou, The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die, and Them Fleurs in Switzerland

As I have already mentioned, I was able to see mewithoutYou perform in Luzern (Lucerne), Switzerland on January 29 at the Triebhaus. When I learned they were playing so closely to me (an hour and a half drive south), I researched their tour-mates, whom I had never heard: The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die.

(I want to buy this poster! If you know who designed it or where it might be for sale, please comment. The bands did not have it on tour.)

I was initially very impressed with The World Is..., and from a recorded standpoint, I still am. But their live show left a bad taste in my mouth; more on that below.

The location and venue were perfect. In my previous post you can see the view from the nearby lakefront. Most all major cities in Switzerland are on lakes, and are always gorgeous. The Triebhaus is a restaurant and bar, with the actual concert hall in the back. The place is full of unique artwork, and you can see a photo of some cardboard sculptures in my previous post.

The concert hall was very small; the smallest I have been to in quite some time. The last time I saw mewithoutYou was Cornerstone Festival 2007, and the tent they played was so packed and so hot and sweaty (in July), I listened to most of that show from outside the tent. Here are some photos of that show and festival. The cover shot, which despite its blurriness, has always been one of my favorites. It is the outside of the mewithoutYou tent, and accurately shows how crowded it was...

Cornerstone Festival

In 2016 mewithoutYou typically plays shows to hundreds of people (if not thousands) and this room at the Triebhaus could not hold more than 150. So as I talked to band members at the merch table before the music began I wondered: 1) How would all the fans fit and 2) How would all the members of The World Is... be able to stand on the stage.

The opening band, Them Fleurs, was impressive and about as much as one can ask of an opening band. They were local, and because of that, they crowd filled the small room and was paying them close attention. My overall opinion is that I loved their sound and guitar work, but the vocals did not compliment the music. My fellow concert-goers agreed that the vocals prevented them from truly enjoying the band.

Them Fleurs gallery (14 photos): Them Fleurs

While mewithoutYou and The World Is... are co-headliners on this tour, mewithoutYou played first and as far as I know it has been the same order all tour. They both played hour-long sets.

I had high expectations for mewithoutYou, and they did not disappoint. The venue was full, but not overly so, and it was possible to move around and get as close to the stage as one would like. As I moved through the room everyone was at minimum paying very close attention, and there were many fans singing along to every word.

mewithoutYou's energy is second-to-none, propelled by drummer Richard Mazzotta. He plays a small kit, but is relentless. While the band did not seem as tight as I usually hear them described, their complete investment into their music makes it easily to excuse their mistakes. For example, when Mike Weiss prematurely launched into the opening fuzzy guitar riff of "February, 1878", it seemed the band initially considered stopping to continue with their planned setlist. But brother Aaron Wiess said, "Go with it" and they continued unfazed.

While I did not see or note the setlist from the show I attended, this one from a few nights prior in Leipzig, Germany seems to be very close, with maybe two or three different tunes. From memory I would say there was one additional song from Brother, Sister and one less song from Pale Horses. I was very surprised to hear a song from A to B Life, because I have not listened to that album in years (and is really the only mewithoutYou album I never revisit). When they began playing it I initially thought to myself, "New song?" but then realized, "Nope, very old song!"

I was especially impressed with Brandon Beaver, mewithoutYou's "second" guitar player who joined the band in 2012. Not only did he seem to play just as many essential leads as Mike Weiss, his background vocals were flawless and essential to the songs from Ten Stories. I love all the female vocals parts on Ten Stories, and Beaver's falsetto replaced them well.

Singer Aaron Weiss is obviously the key to the band, and he was fascinating as always: sitting at times, at one point partially hidden behind the drummer, but most of the time bouncing around the stage. His charisma and passion makes him the perfect frontman, but his awkwardness and humility imply the opposite. Either way, it is nice to have a band leader who is genuine and not at all full of himself. This photo perfectly encapsulates the dynamic of the band; Aaron seems to be of another world...

mewithoutYou Live at the Triebhaus-21.jpg

Overall the show clearly reminded me that Brother, Sister is my favorite--and the best--mewithoutYou album. Ten Stories would be next, and the percentage of the songs from these two releases only trailed 2015's Pale Horses. I was surprised that no songs were performed from It's All Crazy! It's All False...; and it was the only album not represented. (Edit: I was reminded that they did play a small segment of "Cattail Down" as an introduction to another song.)

mewithoutYou closed with the epic "Rainbow Signs", and was the only song Aaron Weiss played electric guitar on, adding to the fullness and intensity:


mewithoutYou gallery (46 photos):
mewithoutYou
I may be one of the few, but I really like the too-long band name. As I mentioned, I had never heard of The World Is... until two weeks ago. I bought their newest album, 2015's Harmlessness, very quickly because: 1) It is great and 2) only $7 digitally. Not only that, I downloaded most all of their discography because they have it as free downloads.

I have become obsessed with the song "January 10, 2014", its fascinating true-life story, and outstanding video. The band has a shirt for sale with "Diana the Hunter" on it, and I chatted with David Bello about the song. The band opened with it, and for the most part, it sounded exceptional.

Unfortunately, not completely exceptional. While musically The World Is... was tight and sounded great, lead vocalist David Bello sounded awful. I would like to think he was off or having a bad night, but from what I have read, he sounded as he usually does.

From a recorded standpoint, I like Bello's vocals, but live, they were off-key and out of sync. What is crazy that I just discovered he actually has solo work, and his vocals on it do sound the same as I heard them. So there must be some people who like his voice the way it is. Plus he has been an active musician in a number of bands for a very long time. And if he also writes the lyrics, he does a great job in that regard. (Because there are so many revolving members of the band, and have had so many vocalists over the years, it has been impossible to figure out who writes what.)

But his vocals were a distraction. First of all, my two friends who accompanied me to this show were completely put off by his vocals. They were hearing The World Is... for the first time, and it is doubtful they will give the band another chance. Secondly, the venue cleared out. It was obvious before The World Is... played that most attendees were there for mewithoutYou, and they left as the final set began. The longer The World Is... played the smaller the crowd got. There were far more people in the bar in the next room than there were in the concert hall.

I don't want to get away from how good the band sounded otherwise. The music and guitar work overall was intricate and sounded almost exactly like their recordings. However, I have more complaints. While talking to a few members of the band before the show I asked how many members they had on tour with them, as I had read they sometimes had as many as a dozen. They told me they were playing with eight, one less than the nine they had on their last US tour. They said the violin player couldn't come because the plane ticket was too expensive.

That all made sense to me until I saw them take the stage with FOUR guitar players. The line-up was a vocalist who played no instruments; four guitar players, two of which who sang sometimes; a bass player; a drummer; and a female keyboard player who also sang lead on occasion (Katie Lynne Shanholtzer-Dvorak is easily one of the most important people in the band). One of the guitar players could have easily been removed from the stage and no one would have noticed. The other three guitar players all played interesting parts, but the parts could have been covered by two players fairly simply. (I have seen bands play live with only one guitar player and the sound was equally as full.)

After a few songs I was pretty upset they left the violin player behind. And all three background/alternate vocalists could sing WAY better than the lead singer. With eight touring members, a couple of which I would say were non-essential, I don't see how the band is making money on this European tour. I hope for their own sake they break-even and are able to just enjoy it as a vacation.

Overall I would say The World Is... was able to overcome the poor vocals. I enjoyed their show as a whole, and just last night bought the band's first LP, Whatever, If Ever. If my complaining serves any purpose maybe it is just to lower the expectations of those readers who may see the band play in the future.

The World Is... gallery (18 photos):
The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die


Reactions: