Mew – Live concert review ¦ Barbican Centre, London [20 October 2018]

Mew – Frengers 15th Anniversary World Tour

Firstly, a bit of background for the readers 😊.

Mew are one of the few bands that I came to like based on the strength of an album cover alone – yes folks it was Frengers – I saw it, loved the cover, bought the CD and really liked the strange noises I heard – been a fan ever since.  I’d really been looking forward to this gig as finally I get to see them in the flesh, plus the added bonus I get to see the band perform this unique LP in its entirety! The stars must have aligned.  To me Mew are both weird and wonderful in equal measures.

So, for me Mew are “playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order 😊” (thanks to Eric Morecambe for that useable quote).  Sometimes it is just a cacophony of odd noises, weirdness and then a nice tune breaks out.  It all kind of fits together nicely with Jonas’ beautiful high voice. I’m at a bit of a loss as to where to categorise them so I’m gonna stick them in the Bjork camp of ‘one of a kind, listen to the sound of their own drum’.  It’s beautifully melodic in parts, atmospheric, hauntingly experimental yet distorted by vocals and instruments.  To me in sections it sounds like they are playing an LP backwards – the song ‘Special’ is a classic example of this.  Even the close harmonies seem to be battling against the flow.  In fairness, without the lyrics, you’d be hard pressed to work out what Jonas is singing about for the most part.

The Barbican is a brilliant place for sound.  I’ve seen so many gigs where the mix has been appalling – not so with the posh surroundings of barbican which is built for the delicate sound of an orchestra.  In the circle seats the buildings strange shape distinctly helped the acoustics, with the band coming through extremely loud and clear!  Can I also add that the seating is big and cosy and posh aimed at the classical music brigade and certainly not the great unwashed R’n’R audience (well not in this case, you’ll have to read on to find out why now!!).

Mew sold out the evening show and decided to do a Matinee show as well, which is the one I had tickets for.  From my seating you could tell that the stalls were pretty much full but the dress circle and upper circle were half empty.  Set 1 covered a smattering of songs from their back catalogue (see set list) and lasted about 37 minutes (a kind of ‘best of’ Mew selection).  There was a 20-minute interlude followed by Set 2 which covered 2003’s Frengers LP in its entirety – another 50 mins.

Danish trio Mew are:Mew Logo

  • Jonas Bjerre Terkelsbol – Lead Vocals, Guitar
  • Johan Wohlert – Bass
  • Silas Utke Graae Jørgensen – Drums
  • Mads Wegner – Guitar
  • Nick Watts – Keyboards, Guitar

For this gig Mew were ably assisted by the Elysian Quartet/Phaedra Ensemble string quartet for added atmosphere.  And they stated the show with Jonas alone singing ‘City Voices’ almost in the dark.  In fact, throughout the gig most of the set was extensively black and occasionally backlit in purple/blue/magenta/Red hues and very rarely did you actually get to see the band.  I’m sure they spent an awful lot on lighting, but for me it didn’t quite work.  Apart from being way too dark, the floor spots were angled in the wrong positions often blinding the audience in the circles.  As my wife said afterwards “if they were stood next to me I wouldn’t recognise them”.  After the first couple of songs they employed the huge backscreen to decent effect to envisage the songs.  Some interesting graphics and images to go with Jonas’ songs.  I particularly liked the ‘King Christian’ imagery.

There was minimal audience interaction from Jonas, with the occasional “thanks you so much”, and it was left to Johan to do a short synopsis of Frengers (a combination of the words ‘friend’ and ‘stranger’ – well you learn something new every day eh!).   To summarise – it was released when the band had moved to London in 2003 and the 15th anniversary shows here revived great memories for them and they were really appreciative to the audience for their enthusiasm and support.

Now that brings me back to the audience.  A mix of all ages/genders up to say 65 (some parents brought their young kids) but predominantly 20-45 age bracket.  In the main it was couples and I hate to be stereotypical but this was predominantly a wine drinking ‘middle-class’ audience.  There you go I said it!

The band were all dressed in black (to go with the black stage I assume) and Jonas was wearing some baggy pants that clearly had had an argument with his Nike trainers, not saying they were a tad short but!  For Set 1 the band were pretty rooted to the spot, but in Set 2 they actually moved around a little and occasionally formed a ‘Neil Young/Crazy Horse’ type huddle next to the drums and Mads went all rock guitarist when the music allowed.  Apart from that they were all pretty calm – hygge anyone?

Calm they may have looked but bloody hell did they make a huge sonic racket.  Silas beat seven shades out of his drum kit and Johan’s bass just reverberated through your whole body.  During the ‘Frengers’ set even Jonas broke out from his calm trance and gave the guitar a pounding.  Nick delicately played the keyboards and held the tunes together, occasionally strapping the guitar on to cover for Jonas just singing.  For me Set 1 was too short, it had some great songs but trust me Act 2 the whole of ‘Frengers’ sounds even better at full volume.  Hell, it was good!

Setlist Set 1 (click the link to view video)

  1. City Voices – (Frengers 15th Anniversary Re-Issue 2018,
    and B-side of ‘Comforting Sounds’ single 2003)
  2. Repeaterbeater – (No More Stories…, 2009)
  3. Special – (And the Glass Handed Kites, 2005)
  4. The Zookeeper’s Boy – (And the Glass Handed Kites, 2005)
  5. Satellites – (+ – , 2015)
  6. Interview the Girls – (+ – , 2015)
  7. King Christian – (Half the World Is Watching Me, 2000)
  8. Louise Louisa – (And the Glass Handed Kites, 2005)

Mew Frengers 15 Anniversary World Tour [20 Oct 2018] Barbican

Set 2
*  (Frengers, 2003)

  1. Am I Wry? No*
  2. 156*
  3. Snow Brigade*
  4. Symmetry*
  5. Behind the Drapes*
  6. Her Voice Is Beyond Her Years*
  7. Eight Flew Over, One Was Destroyed*
  8. She Came Home for Christmas*
  9. She Spider*
  10. Comforting Sounds*

And so, the gig ended with the soaring mini-epic of the majestic ‘Comforting Sounds’.   Nick and Jonas start alone with the rest of the band gradually drifting back on stage to build up to the songs repetitive crescendo.  A glacially work of art indeed!  The audience as one rise to their feet to applaud this epic song and the show as a whole.  Rapturous applause follow until the house lights are turned on (I think I actually managed a proper glimpse of the band at this point 😊).

A wonderful late afternoon’s entertainment, plus the added benefit of being able to take my wife out for a lovely vegan meal/glass of wine at The Ned (Bank tube) after the show and still get home at a reasonable hour – all very middle class!

Mew are unique, and obviously their record company let them do whatever they damn like which is just great – who wants the same old stuff being regurgitated.  It may not make them rich but it connects with their eclectic fanbase.  Come back soon chaps!

Article by: Marko Jergic [21 October 2018]
Ps – the only other time I saw a matinee show was Genesis in 1977 (Leicester) on the ‘Wind and Wuthering’ tour.

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