Mew Live In London

Danish alt-proggers dazzle Camden.

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Mew’s UK album chart positions – No.59 for their sixth and latest, +-, is their highest to date – don’t quite do justice to their fanbase: it’s like seeing a secret sect filing reverentially into the mighty, coliseum-like Roundhouse tonight. They have come in their legions to witness the return, after six years, of the Danish band categorised variously as ‘indie stadium’, a poppier Muse, the Danish Radiohead, A-ha gone prog metal, and My Bloody Valentine savaging the songbook of Prefab Sprout.

They don’t disappoint. Mew, dressed uniformly like meninblack, may not offer Muse-like levels of sci-fi spectacle, but they don’t have to: the pageantry and splendour are all in the music. There’s some fancy lighting, and in terms of stagecraft, guitarist Bo Madsen moves around a bit, while the bearded Johan Wohlert – back in the fold after an absence of seven years – does that legs-splayed bass-god thing, as patented by Joy Division/New Order’s Peter Hook.

But apart from that, it’s the combined performances of the musicians that dazzle. You find yourself craning your neck, gazing up at Jonas Bjerre’s soaring tenor and the edifices constructed by Madsen, Wohlert and drummer Silas Utke Graae Jørgensen: Mew are one of the few bands whose sculpted noise merits the epithet ‘sonic architecture’.

Bjerre is about as far from the flamboyant rock figurehead as you can get: stood cautiously centre-stage, he seems uncomfortable, even frightened; indeed, at one point he admits that the band were “fucking scared” in anticipation of playing such a big, prestigious gig.

It’s the symphonic majesty of Snow Brigade, the sight of the singer caught amid the staccato artillery fire of the beats and bass, like a choirboy fronting a war machine, that stuns. The crowd, it must be said, are curiously static, although giving them the benefit of the doubt, that could be due to sheer awe.

If there is any criticism, it’s that the sound is somewhat on the blaring side: Mew’s rock is of the weightless, evanescent variety, simultaneously heavy and lighter than air, pure and pristine, but occasionally it gets muddied by a badly set up PA.

The audience are forgiving and bring Mew back on for two encores. My Complications is an epic of keening melody, all prog‑ish intricacy and tempo shifts, while Comforting Sounds is the inevitable nine-minute closer. It’s a forlorn epic, as intimate as it is immense, Bjerre’s angelic voice scaling new, piercingly poignant heights as the band unleash wave upon wave of grievously gorgeous sound. They take a bow and leave the stage to a drone because, well, what else is there left to say?

Paul Lester

Paul Lester is the editor of Record Collector. He began freelancing for Melody Maker in the late 80s, and was later made Features Editor. He was a member of the team that launched Uncut Magazine, where he became Deputy Editor. In 2006 he went freelance again and has written for The Guardian, The Times, the Sunday Times, the Telegraph, Classic Rock, Q and the Jewish Chronicle. He has also written books on Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Bjork, The Verve, Gang Of Four, Wire, Lady Gaga, Robbie Williams, the Spice Girls, and Pink.