Monday, 22 May 2017

1,039 MEW, Warhaus, Bristol Trinity, Sunday 21st May 2017



Ah, Mew, Mew… how is this one going to go? The band who swept all before them in the early 2000’s with a work of dazzling beauty and originality in 2003’s “Frengers”, subsequently delivering a string of brilliant, breathtaking “live” performances in support of this and 2006’s subsequent, patchier “…And The Glass Handed Kites”, then imploding in a swathe of muffled, muddied drum-machine dominated murk at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in 2009, in possibly the most disappointing gig I’ve ever been to. Yup, ever. From no greater heights had a band fallen, in my eyes, 2009’s “No More Stories…” album still being unlistenable for me. However, since then, the Mew ship had righted itself to a certain degree; bassist, rock god and Hugh Jackman clone Johan Wohlert returned to the fold in 2014, with a fine 2015 album “+ - ” being followed in short order with the current “Visuals”. A return to some semblance of form at least, these 2; hardly a patch on “Frengers”, but more consistent than “Kites”, which fell off a cliff after “Zookeeper’s Boy”, and a quantum improvement on “Stories…”. Cause for optimism, then, and Rach and I booked tix separately, both wishing to give our early millennial favourites another chance. However, we still wondered (and ironically so, for a band named after a Pokemon!), which evolution of Mew would be on show tonight? What on earth to expect?

A quick drive down a sun-drenched M4 to Cabot Circus, then an equally swift wander round to Bristol Trinity, avoiding a couple of rough old locals in the process… The evocative old church hall should perhaps be the ideal venue for Mew to weave their ethereal dreamscapes… First, however, support Warhaus, a Belgian 3-piece played an overpoweringly rhythmic sounding set, almost tribal early doors, before settling down to more late night torch music territory, albeit punctuated throughout by some migraine-inducing discordant percussion and irritating mouth organ blare. Their “Against The Rich”, which had a more cinematic, 60’s feel, was easily the best of a mediocre set. More entertaining were the couple who walked in wearing matching dinosaur patterned t-shirt and dress! Not sure whether to be impressed or horrified!

Took a place stage left, then swapped it to a more central spot, next to a chatty Welsh chap and his lady, so Rachel could be on Johan’s side! Led on at 9 by choirboy vocalist Jonas Bjerre, the tinkling synth chimes and pounding drums (proper drums! Yay!) of opener “In A Better Place”, augmented by the psychedelic patterned films projected onto the backstop, built to a crescendo of haunting beauty, promising much for the set. The more conventional “85 Videos” and a taut, funky “Special” followed, Johan’s slap bass to the fore. Then…

“Special” segued into the intended ethereal majesty of “Zookeeper’s Boy”, then, as they say, it all went tits up… synth, monitors and projector all seemed to fail simultaneously and the song was abandoned. As the roadies scurried around, Jonas filled in with a story of his last time in Bristol, being approached by a beautiful girl who then handed him a scientology pamphlet (!), then the band attempted “Satellites”, unfortunately with the same outcome. No other option than for a quick break whilst the tech issues were addressed…

5 minutes later, tech issues by no means resolved, they resumed with another go at “Satellites”; no projector, synth as keyboards only, and with the mix somewhat askew, bass and drums overly to the fore, giving the sound a strident, booming feel for the remainder of the set. Nonetheless, Mew powered through, the show suddenly turning into a proper full-on “rock” gig, some of the finer embellishments and nuances lost – through no fault of the band’s own this time – but the new material emerging relatively unscathed from this relative roughhousing. “Wake Of Your Life” was big, beefy and bouncy, a blood red-lit “Apocalypso” was dark, brooding and menacing, and even “Introducing Palace Players” from that “Stories…” debacle sounded pretty decent given this treatment. Through it all, the band retained their humour, Johan remarking, “we’re having a funny old time up here,” then later commenting, “I wish I had something funny to say,” to which a female punter (not my wife, oddly enough…!) replied, “you’re so beautiful it doesn’t matter!”

Set closer “Carry Me To Safety” was a plaintive, low-key finale, as a troubled set faded out. However the encore was anything but; “Nothingness And No Regrets”, the excellent opener to the new album, eased in with an array of layered vocals, ceding to the powerful, militaristic drums, then building to a haunting, angelic hook. Great stuff, but the subsequent “Am I Wry? No” finally saw the projector back, hurtling us through space to the widescreen strafing power and dazzling brilliance of one of the best singles of the century. Yes, I said “century”… “156”, haunting and ethereal, built to a strident, dramatic crescendo, then the wistful melancholy of the opening to “Comforting Sounds”, accompanied by Johan admitting, “it wasn’t the easiest of nights, but thanks for your support,” then saw the song launch into its elongated symphonic, sweeping denouement, accompanied by projections of be-suited rabbits playing violins. A deserved bow at the end from the band, plus handshakes for me from Jonas and Johan as I moved forward to grab a list, running into Devizes gig buddy Alfie in the process, before Rachel and I – for once, these days – enjoyed a quick exit from Bristol, home by 11.30. Hardly restored to their full-on “Frengers” pomp, but certainly a massive quantum step back in the right direction, despite the technical issues which, overall, I felt they handled with stoicism and fortitude. One thing’s for sure with a Mew gig, as ever – expect the unexpected!

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