Tag Archives: Alt-Rock

Mew at The Fillmore

Mew_1Danish alternative rock band Mew, hailing from Copenhagen retuned to San Francisco last week at the Fillmore Auditorium. It was their first time staging a headlining tour in the Americas in 6 years, supporting their new release +- (plus-minus). The venue was packed with an equal share of loyal fans and many newcomers, drawn to the band on the strength of the recent album. They opened the show with powerful new track “Witness” followed by “Satellites” the lead single from +-, a bit of breezy pop featuring shimmering keys, arpeggios on electric guitars, driving backbeat and soaring, ethereal lead vocals by Jonas Bjerre, the clear focal point of this acclaimed band. Sometimes when a group leads off with their top single it demonstrates a confidence in their set list, and this was the case with Mew, as they ran through six new songs, and ten from their prior releases, delivering an assured, magnificent concert.

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Mew actually dates back to 1994, with six albums now in their catalog. The band for this tour includes Jonas Bjerre (vocals, keyboards), John Wohlert (bass, backing vocals), Silas Utke Graae Jorgensen (drums) and touring musicians Mads Wegner (guitars, replacing recently departed member Bo Madsen) and Nick Watts (keyboards). The band play relatively loud, rarely using dynamics to bring the sound down to highlight Bjerre’s amazing voice, in the way that for instance The National has done on their last tour. Also, for this tour, the band put some effort into some unique lighting and original video clips created by Bjerre. Unfortunately on this night at the Fillmore, these were not used, replaced instead by relatively simple back lighting. Nonetheless, these are minor quibbles, as the band was energetic, and in top form, driving their blend of proggy indie rock to stadium level dynamics, best exemplified by rocker “My Complications” from +-. A highlight in the setlist for this patron was the second single from that same album, “Water Slides” which has one of the catchiest choruses in recent memory:

For such a long time I didn’t know if I’d find you
Say stop, made up, lying on the bathroom floor
(ah ah ah ah ah ah ah)

Mew_2This one put me in mind of dreamy 80’s artists Cocteau Twins, and some of their more accessible songs from Heaven Or Las Vegas. In fact, during a recent interview with vocalist Bjerre, he states that his parents listened to a lot of Eurythmics, Kate Bush, and other pop from the ‘80’s but that alterative-rock artists like Nirvana, My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth and others stoked the flame and brought them together back in 1994. In addition to these bands, he says “all those ‘80s pop influences, and the sense of storytelling those bands had, kind of sneaked slowly into our sound.” It’s hard to classify Mew, not that it’s necessary, as fans modern rock of any type should check out their fantastic new album and if you can, their current tour.

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The Dodo’s

By the way, The Dodos opened for Mew, delivering a blistering set that featured drummer Logan Kroeber’s unique style of playing. This talented percussionist uses almost no symbols, but plenty of precise, rolling toms, and lots of rim shots. Metric Long accompanies with lead vocals and guitar, favoring a frenetic finger picking style, and rapid-fire leads that are fitting to his name! Will definitely be checking out a headlining show from these creative indie rockers.

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Flaming Lips Burn!

The Flaming Lips burned brightly last time I saw them at the Fox Theater, Oakland on October 1, 2010 when they played to a sold-out crowd of initiated followers.  The music of this band is a jarring combination of funk, progressive, noise, and psychedelic music, that may invoke a dreamy state in the listener.  Their most recent release at that time, Embryonic, is a relentless, percussive masterwork that was not particularly featured in the set list at the Fox.  Instead the band pulled more evenly from material released over the last dozen years, probably because this show fell late in the tour.

In general, there is a lot to applaud in a Flaming Lips show:

  • Front man Wayne Coyne climbing inside his clear plastic ball rolling through the audience
  • Tons of confetti delivered via colorful cannons, showering down on the audience along with a multitude of giant balloons
  • A dozen amatuer dancers – boys stage left, girls right – posing and shimmying to the sounds
  • Wayne donning a giant pair of hands containing palm lasers shooting out in all directions
  • Beautiful light pallet with acid-house projections on clever rear video delivery system
  • Talented musicians that improve on the studio recordings with their aggressive live delivery

All of this should add up to an absolutely amazing entertainment spectacle.  And it does.  But somehow this night’s show just fell a bit short for me. Loved the evening, but some minor complaints:

  • Wayne too often extols the crowd to cheer louder
  • Too much time is spent wandering the stage and preparing for the next track, breaking the flow of the show
  • The dancers, hands and bubble are great staples, but new innovations would help the converted

Having said all that, for anyone uninitiated in the ways of the Lips, the show would be an exceptional experience. And make no mistake, once the band gets focused on the delivery of their most forceful, driven work, they are on top of their game as alt-rock pioneers. For this two time attendee, I will be excited to see them again with some additional set pieces and a tighter delivery so as to take the heat a few degrees higher.  Seems after the intervening years, and now with a new EP, the next tour will be the right time.