mewithoutYou w/ Imaginary Cities, Buried Beds
Music Farm
May 20

Longtime fans of the band mewithoutYou have followed the group through some puzzling changes since their debut full-length album hit shelves 10 years ago. They listened as the one-time Philadelphia post-hardcore heroes shed their angry scales and took to Baroque-pop storytelling and freak-folk experimentation, making liberal use of accordion, harp, and acoustic-guitar strumming. But Sunday night at the Music Farm, fans new and old were satisfied to hear a band that had found a tamer voice without forgetting how to howl at the moon.

Imaginary Cities, an indie-pop outfit from Winnipeg, Canada, started the evening off with a gentle, jangly set that highlighted lead singer Marti Sarbit’s Motown-worthy vocals. By the last song, the crowd had been won over by Sarbit’s charm and the group’s classic sound.

Philadelphia band Buried Beds followed up with a set of bouncy, synth-driven songs that included some anthemic moments on par with Arcade Fire. Dual lead vocalists Eliza Jones and Brandon Beaver lent each other some tight harmonies, but the band really shone when all the members sang along, often beating on a small marching band’s worth of drums. Violist Hallie Sianni appeared to be working the hardest of the lot, contributing some memorable pizzicato plucking and high-speed fiddling.

A large portion of the audience showed up partway through Buried Beds’ set, jockeying for spots near the stage so they could mouth the words right along with mewithoutYou’s singer and esoteric lyricist, Aaron Weiss, who is known for his off-kilter warble and spoken-word cadence. At live shows in recent years, he seemed to retreat into himself, trading off between little-boy mumbling and straightforward singing, but when he took to the stage Sunday, leading off with the 2006 song “A Glass Can Only Spill What it Contains,” he struck a balance of extremes: His quiet moments were quieter than ever, while his louder moments saw his emotive caterwaul coming back out in full force.

Weiss spoke timidly between songs, but when the band kicked in, he resumed his trademark dance, a flailing dervish not unlike the motions of a thumb-push puppet toy that goes limp and rights itself again. Drummer Rickie Mazzotta was ferocious as ever, flinging sweat and spit from the quiet shuffle of “Aubergine” to the punk blitzkrieg of “January 1979.” And lead guitarist Michael Weiss brought a renewed focus and heavy-metal muscularity to the band, rotating through an array of guitars to provide the sonic fireworks.

The whole concert took place in front of a 12-foot-tall print of a painting, by frequent mewithoutYou collaborator Vasily Kafanov, that depicts a 19th-Century circus train wreck with the animals let loose. It is the cover art for the band’s most recent album, Ten Stories, and it served as an appropriate backdrop for a band that had learned some new tricks and then returned to the wild.

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