In Our Darkness, A Light Shines: mewithoutYou Celebrate 10 Years of Brother, Sister

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mewithoutYou | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | jeremy-zim.com
mewithoutYou | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | jeremy-zim.com

For a band that does an awful lot of protesting their own existence, mewithoutYou are doing pretty well for themselves, 15 years in. On Thursday night, they celebrated a record that begins and ends with “I do not exist,” turning 10 years old — no small feat when you think about it. This closed tautology of self-denial bookends indie punk classic Brother, Sister — and has become an anthem for those searching for something beyond the easy answers. While all of mewithoutYou’s work deals heavily in symbolism and clever turns of phrase, the album doubles down on philosophical questions and existential probing. Billed as “The Sun & the Moon Band,” mewithoutYou again shrugged off that troublesome self in order to play in secret at Boot & Saddle, a venue several orders of magnitude more humble than their usual digs for the special occasion.

Hurry | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | jeremy-zim.com
Hurry | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | jeremy-zim.com

The evening got started with a special appearance from “Rush 2.0” — whom you might know better as our good friends in Hurry. While, sadly, not an entire set of Rush covers, Hurry’s plucky energy and punchy powerpop riffs were a great way to get into the swing of things. In a break between the upbeat songs, Hurry frontman Matt Scottoline gave his usual droll banter a rest, and acknowledged what the night meant to him. As it happens, the first DIY show Scottoline ever went to 15 years ago was apparently mewithoutYou’s first show — that’s too wild to be some kind of coincidence. Even though Hurry felt like a strange pairing for the night’s bill, I’m glad that they were there; Doubly so knowing what it must have meant to Matt. Kicking briskly through a brief set of mostly Guided Meditation material, it was clear that Hurry was doing what they do best at the top of their game: Having fun.

I always forget just how small the room is down there at Boot & Saddle. But when mewithoutYou dropped into the second verse of Brother, Sister opener “Messes of Men,” I all-too-quickly remembered. Smashed into the low stage as the absolutely packed room surged forward, it was impossible to ignore just how important this band is to so many people — myself included. I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone in the 150 cap audience knew each word to the whole record. With lyrics as dually cryptic and heavy as those that pour from the mind of Aaron Weiss, this isn’t exactly the kind of band that attracts casual fans. You either get it, or you don’t. But those that do manage get into the band’s  arcana are really, really along for the ride of a lifetime.

mewithoutYou | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | jeremy-zim.com
mewithoutYou | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | jeremy-zim.com

The crowd was pumped up from the very beginning, and it’s a raucous energy, one that you can tell the rest of the band feeds off of. So it’s no surprise that by the time they’re into the third track, merciless “Wolf Am I! (And Shadow),” that Weiss has already flung away his heavy sweater,stripped out of his flannel and begun to sweat through his tee. His frenetic, blistering dancing finds little space on the tiny Boot stage, but that’s of little consequence to the expert frontman as he uses every inch of ground to rile up the crowd. At one point I barely manage to dodge the head of guitarist Mike Weiss’ axe as he jumps to the front of the stage screaming the lyrics to another song into the faces of the front row. And the crowd is right there with it. Word for word, line for line, the record is brought to crazy, masterful life.

After the final “I do not exist” chorus of “In A Sweater Poorly Knit” had rang out, everyone took a good long breather. Smiling and laughing, Aaron picked up his mic and said “Well that’s the end of that one, so instead of an encore lets play you a few more.” With a six-album discography to pick from, one of the great things about this band is that pretty much everything could be called a “deep cut,” and there aren’t many songs that the band won’t play. That’s why both whimsical folksy morality tale “The Fox, The Crow and the Cookie” can appear in the same set as the impossibly heavyhanded post-hardcore breakup song “Gentlemen,” and it makes total sense — the band’s material is one whole cloth, much like life itself.

It’s not for nothing that this record — and the band itself — have stood the test of time. Though much of Brother, Sister deals with deals in existential spades, it’s just as much a piece of art about finding oneself as it is the losing of the self. Ten years on, this record has carried me through a lot of shit, and a lot of good times as well. They say your whole body is replaced with new cells every 7 or 10 years or so, and often it feels like the 2006 me is dead and long gone by now. But this record feels like a permanent part of me now, changing me, and somehow changing along with me, too.

Setlist:

  1. Messes of Men
  2. The Dryness and the Rain
  3. Wolf Am I! (And Shadow)
  4. Yellow Spider
  5. A Glass Can Only Spill What It Contains
  6. Nice and Blue (Pt. Two)
  7. The Sun and the Moon
  8. Orange Spider
  9. C-Minor
  10. In a Market Dimly Lit
  11. O, Porcupine
  12. Brownish Spider
  13. In a Sweater Poorly Knit
  14. The Fox, the Crow, and the Cookie
  15. Mexican War Streets
  16. Gentlemen
  17. Red Cow
  18. Elephant in the Dock
  19. Rainbow Signs
  20. Timothy Hay
  21. Torches Together

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