All photos by Autumn Andel.
In an industry that seems to pump out a new band every millisecond, some people may have forgotten about Mew. The last time Mew stopped in Portland was on December 19, 2009—an unusually frigid winter night for the Rose City, with icy roads threatening to spoil the attendance. Almost six years later, summery weather welcomed the Danes on Monday, the night after the Supermoon lunar eclipse; their live show was as special and rare as the astronomical occurrence.
Mew’s North American tour kicked off on September 17 in San Diego. Along the way, they've been doing best to made their return known, scheduling in as many promotional appearances as possible. So before the Wonder Ballroom show, a stripped-down version of Mew did an instore performance at Portland’s oldest record shop, Music Millennium. Surprisingly, the “indie stadium rock” tunes adapted well to the tight space, highlighting Jonas Bjerre’s delicate yet powerful vocals. Whether on a small balcony of a music store or on a stage of a concert hall, those of us who were witnesses would never forget Mew.
San Francisco two-piece the Dodos
warmed up the Wonder Ballroom stage before the night’s headliner. They were an unexpected choice considering the upbeat crystalline melodies of their intelligent pop. (Guess I was expecting something more experimental?) Armed only with a guitar and a drum set, Meric Long and Logan Kroeber seemed to conjure up sounds bigger than their stripped-down appearance suggested. I had to keep looking to see if Long was playing around with effects pedals but no, it was all done with his hands. In retrospect, the Dodos were a smart opener for a big-production band such as Mew.
Darkness slowly lifted on the platform as Silas Utke Graae Jørgensen emerged from behind the curtains, only to disappear again behind his drum kit. One by one, Mew's members streamed in, with frontman Bjerre completing the quintet. They kicked off their set with the upbeat rocker “Witness,” in which Bjerre’s vocals registered in the lower end for the verses, then counterbalancing with his trademark falsetto on the chorus. “Satellites,” another track from their recent album, +-
, worked up the crowd before they dove into 2006’s And the Glass Handed Kites
with the poppy “Special” and the epic “The Zookeeper's Boy.” Bjerre held us in captivity with the reverberating final words from the baroque-rock masterpiece: “In cars re-made.” This spell was broken by the ingenious guitar riff of “Introducing Palace Players” from their album with a super long title: No More Stories Are Told Today, I'm Sorry They Washed Away // No More Stories, the World Is Grey, I'm Tired, Let's Wash Away
. Unfortunately the author of that complex chord, guitarist Bo Madsen, left the band this past summer; filling the vacancy for the tour is Mads Wegner. He did his best to keep up with the energy of bass player Johan Wolhert, who rejoined Mew last June after an eight-year hiatus. The willowy bassist zoomed around with a force that was like visual caffeine.
One of the most impressive display was Mew’s wizard-like ability to bring +-'s longest track (clocking in at 10:43), “Rows,” to life. But it still could not outshine the momentum of power of tracks from 2003’s Frengers: “Snow Brigade," “She Spider," and "Am I Wry? No." Meanwhile, a medley of “Clinging to a Bad Dream," "The Zookeeper's Boy," and "Louise Louisa” slowed down things a bit for an intimate exchange between Bjerre (aided by the unofficial fifth member, multi-instrumentalist Nick Watts) and the audience; the boyish singer pointed his mic to the crowd to sing the lines: “Are you my lady, are you my lady / Are you, are you?” as his big eyes brightened with delight.
Mew ended the night with something new, “My Complications,” and something old, “Comforting Sounds”. The nine-minute Frengers
track has become the unofficial set closer. The buildup from a ballad to stadium pop is a gradual one that swells with grandiosity, to the point of bursting—like a song equivalent of a big bang. As the five-piece took their bows, a mutual feeling of gratitude permeated from both sides of the stage. Indeed, it was a triumphant return.
Stepping out of the venue, a still very pregnant moon lit my way home. In a month, the satellite will wane and be full again, but it will be another 18 years before the next Supermoon lunar eclipse. And it could take months or years before we see Mew again, fueling our intellect and satiating our primordial urges with their music. Monday night felt as rare and special as a celestial event.
Lots more photos below!