The last time we heard from mewithoutYou was in 2015, when the Philadelphia post-hardcore band released their sixth album, Pale Horses. Currently at work on the follow-up, before releasing any new material, the band will take a deep dive into their past, performing their first record, 2002’s [A->B] Life, in its entirety for its 15-year anniversary.
Album anniversary tours have become somewhat common in recent years, and the response to them has been mixed (Newsweek, for example, referred to the phenomenon as “How Nostalgia Took Over the Concert Industry”). But in the case of mewithoutYou, returning to their roots is not only a celebration of their past, but a genuine opportunity to see how a live band has grown and changed in that time.
Energy is often the intangible element in music—that thing that can’t be programmed or phoned in—and [A->B] Life has plenty of it. The songs are frequently loose and unpredictable, channeling Fugazi, hymns, breakbeats, and post-rock in equal measure, forming a sound that set the tone for the emo and screamo music of the mid-2000s.
“There’s something about that record,” says guitarist Mike Weiss over the phone. “We were listening to it today through some pretty nice speakers. It sounded so fresh to me.”
A lot of the album’s energy comes from the fact that the band recorded it all live, performing the songs together, just like they would onstage. Produced by legendary D.C. punk musician J. Robbins (Jawbox, Government Issue), the album was recorded in 10 days without the aid of ProTools, GarageBand or any correcting software.
“We didn’t have a lot of time to go back and perfect every little thing that we wished we could have done tighter, or turn every little knob in the studio and find the perfect guitar tone for every little section. I remember we just kind of chose a sound and had that for every song.”
In the years since, the band has grown in both size and sound considerably, consistently putting out records that explore new territory.
“I think we really try to push things forward as much as we can every time we make a new record,” Weiss says.
The band changed most noticeably on 2009’s It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All a Dream! It’s Alright, which saw the five-piece trading in distortion and screams for quieter, folkier arrangements. That album’s spiritual themes (drawing inspiration across all Abrahamic faiths) and more widely palatable sonics earned the band an unexpected Dove Award nomination from the Gospel Music Association of America.
But today, the band is finding increased connection to their roots, playing a number of songs from [A->B] Life on recent tours.
“I’ve been getting a lot more fond of the songs,” Weiss says. “They’ve inspired me to create music now in ways that I didn’t have the skills to back then.”
But Weiss insists that this is more than a rehashing of the greatest hits.
“I think it’s more like reinterpreting something that we did once, in a way where we can apply certain concepts to what we’re doing now with more sophistication. But also trying to harness the spirit of what we were doing then.”
Inevitably, things are bound to be a bit different this time. When [A->B] Life came out, Weiss had only been playing guitar for about five years. Now 40, he’s been playing half his life.
“15 years later I’ve found myself a little bit more experienced and accomplished as a guitarist, and I’ve been inspired by [A->B] Life to write new music that has a different spin on it.”
Between 2002 and now the band has definitely moved from A to B, transforming from a bunch of scrappy unknowns into one of the most beloved emo acts of the mid-2000s. And since the songs on their first record were all recorded live, fans now have an interesting opportunity to see them conjure the same energy and emotional space that went into that record, this time with everything that they’ve learned along the way.
“It kind of hit me today,” Weiss says, before heading back to rehearsal. “I’m gonna have a lot of fun on this tour.”
Oct 13, 8pm, $20+
The Ritz, San Jose