Mew

support Fay Wildhagen
author HES date 04/11/15 venue Falconer Salen, Copenhagen, DEN

I am always kind of worried when I have to review a show at Falconer Salen. The venue is a former theatre with large, hanging balconies and the large room that used to be equipped with soft velvet seats has challenged many a sound technician because the hall’s acoustics simply wasn’t built for live music. Tonight’s show, however, is almost sold out and the fact that many more bodies will be absorbing the reverb will hopefully work in the sound’s favour. In spite of Mew being a Danish band, they haven’t played any Danish shows in the wake of the release of the band’s 2015-record ”+-”, apart from a set at this year’s Roskilde Festival. Thus tonight’s set marks the first out of the only two headlining shows on Danish soil for the band, the other one taking place in Aarhus. This exclusivity is undoubtedly one of the reasons Mew’s rare shows like this almost always sells out. Usually opting for smaller venues, the band has this time released Store Vega of its usual duties and chosen a bigger venue in Falconer Salen.

All photos by Lykke Nielsen

Fay Wildhagen

November seems to always be a clusterfuck of bands rounding up their European tours with Copenhagen as one of the last stops. For this reason, I have had absolutely no time to check out Fay Wildhagen pre-show. Yet as some of the audience lazily divide their attention between overpriced beers and small talk in the main hall, and the rest of the audience still being stuck in the obscene queues for the wardrobe, a small Norwegian jente enters the stage with her band.

It takes a while for the humming hall to quiet down, but as soon as Andreas Rødland Haga’s bass is applied to the sound mix all eyes turn to the stage as the vibrations hit our chests with violent force. The slender soundscape allows for this completely overpowered bass to work as a concentrating effect rather than becoming a distraction. The rest of the band’s set up is borderline symphonic, interchangeably adding both cello and the very distinct Hardingfele - a Norwegian Southwestern version of the violin, of which the pitching is different lending it a more folksy sound, rather than the airy, soaring sound of a regular concert violin. In spite of these additions potentially making the soundscape sound very dense, the result is quite the opposite due to extremely intelligent arrangements that only utilize these grander aspects occasionally, letting the silence and frailty benefit from a lot of the defining musical space.

Wildhagen’s voice has an undomesticated quality to it. Her fundamental tone is distinctly alto and in many regards hoarse and common, but all of these qualities also provides a relatability and warmth that is sometimes lost with the way most women are schooled to sound like Adele or Christina Aguilera. Here Wildhagen is distinctly more interesting as a vocalist. This base level is then contrasted with her crisp, organic falsetto, adding the airiness to the soundscape you would normally gain from the use of classic violins.

All of this frailty and classical sound are once again contrasted by the aforementioned aggressive bass, but also shoegazy elements of electric guitar - the last song ending in a symphonically constructed jamming break. The set also has a great mix of song types - some are more on the quiet, singer/songwriter side like “Carry You” and “Snow”, some are uplifting and powerful folk-rock songs like “Fire On The Mountain” and “Lionheart”, with characteristic guitar-lines not unlike Vampire Weekend’s. They're folksy, easily recognizable and most of all just infectiously danceable. The audience latches best on to the latter category of songs, but overall the set is very impressing in both range and intensity.

8

Mew

That Mew is one of the biggest bands in Danish rock is completely deserved. The band has over time shown an incredible ability to experiment, but also still write these iconic songs that are somehow relatable across wide age ranges and even at a level for the great abroad to show mild interest in the band, as even Pitchfork has praised them many times by now. However, this show is characterized by a certain familiarity, a homecoming of sorts - and all communication (the little there is) between band and audience is done in low-brow Danish.

Tonight’s set is of course dominated by the release of “+-” and opens with the energetic “Witness” where Jonas Bjerre uncharacteristically sings mainly in his own tone of voice rather than the falsetto that is the primary modus operandi of the vocalist. The band then continues into the excellent lead single of the album: "Satellites", that also receives a noteworthy response from the audience. But the reaction still doesn’t compare to the reaction to the next song “Zookeeper’s Boy” that almost all members of the audience know the words to. It is accompanied by a surreal light show, that Falconer Salen is strategically a good choice for, with a bigger stage space due to its past as a theatre stage.

For a period of time, Mew’s concerts were distinctly more introvert and needed these audiovisuals to entertain during songs due to Jonas Bjerre’s almost catatonic state during shows. He stands in the middle of the stage most of the show, almost eerily still, holding the microphone in an unnatural position. The complete opposite is the case for recently returned bassist Johan Wohlert as he prances about the stage with aggressive head movements, sometimes picking up a bit of company in the shape of the stand-in guitarist Mads Wegner, that recently has had to fill in for the departed Bo Madsen. The last few years have been tumultuous leaving the band once again only with 3 original members after a sweet but brief reunion of the original lineup in the summer of 2014. In spite of this the band's dynamic is good and they even take a few interesting chances with an almost beatbox-sounding intro to “Making Friends”, a medley, as well as playing some of the more proggy songs like “Introducing Palace Players” as well as some of the more electronic songs like newest single “Water Slides”. Overall the setup is still of the same high quality that one has come to expect from the band and Mew doesn’t seem to have downsized any part of their production to adjust to the new constellation.

One of the most haunting characteristics of Mew’s sound to this day still is Jonas Bjerre’s child-like falsetto, but it seems that this straining vocal technique is starting to take its toll on his performance. On the oldest material and the newest album, he shifts between falsetto and his own, natural full register voice, that is surprisingly low. At tonight’s performance these shifts are far less graceful than I would usually expect of Bjerre, the tones also sometimes slightly disintegrating at the peak of the falsetto. This is only a small dent in the overall impression, but this feeling of disintegration is continued into the sound as the treble increases from barely distracting early in the set, into full-fledged ear-pinching shrieks at the end of the show. I move around the hall to see if this change should be due to problems with a single speaker, but even 5 meters from the doors located in the back, the sound during the last songs is almost unbearable without earplugs, which most of the unsuspecting audience came without.

Overall tonight’s show is hard to pinpoint. In many regards the band does a sublime job, their material here also working greatly in their favour. On the other hand, the sum of many small problems starts to steal from the overall impression. I find myself wanting to get to some kind of cathartic state as the emotional and grand soundscape beckons, but my attention seem to trip on the details rather than being able to devote itself completely. It’s only during the perfection of songs like “Zookeeper’s Boy” and lastly “Comforting Sounds” that I really experience the connection I was hoping to have with the band. In the meantime, I am greatly entertained by intricate composition and perfectly timed grotesque video-projections, but with a band like Mew I want to be more than just entertained.

7

Setlist:

  • Witness
  • Satellites
  • Special
  • Zookeeper’s Boy
  • Introducing Palace Players
  • Sometimes Life Isn’t Easy
  • Water Slides
  • Snow Brigade
  • She Spider
  • Medley of Clinging to a Bad Dream, The Zookeeper's Boy and Louise Louisa by Jonas Bjerre and keyboardist Nick Watts
  • Making Friends
  • Rows
  • Am I Wry
  • 156

Encore

  • My Complications
  • Comforting Sounds

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