About eight years ago, I was sitting at a picnic table looking out at the lake near my house. I was listening to Catch For Us the Foxes, not a record for a sunny day, feeling the wood grain under my fingertips, in search of a little hope. It had rained so vehemently the night before that the level of the lake was up over ten feet. The sun shone so bright and the earth was so freshly washed that the greens of the trees and the blues of the water were the most vibrant I’d ever seen at this park. The water flowing through the dam was roaring loud enough to be heard over my music. The temperature was perfect in only the way a day after rain breaks the weather pattern can be.
“Tie me up! Untie me! All this wishing I was dead is getting old. It’s getting old! It goes on, but it’s old.”
I’ve written about my experiences with depression before and the albums that have helped along the way. But I’ve never written about mewithoutYou, or Aaron Weiss in particular, and how important they’ve been in that same journey. They were never a band I could easily talk about or explain; for me, they always had to be experienced to be understood. In large part, I think I’m having trouble finding the words because, quite frankly, I’m not saying goodbye. I’ll be listening to these records for the rest of my life. So I guess I’m saying thank you.
“And I haven’t even thought about killing myself in almost five months.” That’s the sort of song lyric that makes people nervous around you if it’s under an Instagram photo or in a tweet. That’s the sort of confession that gets concerned looks and jumpstarts difficult conversations. That’s the sort of honesty that made mewithoutYou so special, so personal, so vital for so many. It’s the sort of thing that causes you to travel across a portion of the country to make sure you don’t miss seeing them one last time.
On August 5th, I flew over 700 miles (with two cancellations and eight standby flights) to say farewell to one of the best bands to ever do it. I don’t say that with any tongue-in-cheek or rose-colored glasses; I’ve seen well over a hundred artists and bands live and very few come close or even match what this group of gentlemen bring to the table. And, frankly, those of us who were lucky enough to see them at any point in their career, are truly blessed.
I could write about how I discovered mewithoutYou, but that doesn’t really matter here at the end. I could write about the albums that made them popular or the albums that lost them fans. I could write a detailed review of the setlist or about how they’ve performed over eighty-one songs on their farewell tour and more artists should take note that varied setlists are a good thing. In fact, I’ve started and deleted all of those drafts. Instead, I just want to write about how I felt watching the band perform knowing that after that night, they would only perform three more times.
In Daring Greatly, Dr. Brené Brown wrote that “[v]ulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.” When I think of the community fostered around being a fan of this band and the records they’re leaving us with, I can think of no more accurate quote.
The first time I saw mewithoutYou live, they opened for Brand New and Thrice in 2007 the day before Thanksgiving at The Tabernacle in Atlanta. I’d coerced my cousin into going with me, burning her a mix of each of the bands so she could become familiar with them as this wasn’t her scene. It was also my first time seeing Thrice and my excitement level was off the charts. I think about this show often and how at the time it was one of the most important things I’d attended because of how much each band meant to me.
Fifteen years later, my cousin and I still attend shows together–though we pay for the seats in the balcony now. We’ve discussed it, and this first show drew us closer together than we had been before. We were newly adults and figuring out who we were and wanted to be–and somewhere along the way found music and friendship for life. So as I stood in New York City without her, I also cherished the memory of us quickly looking at each other when mewithoutYou opened the Vheissu fifteen-year tour and smiling when they played one of our favorites.
I’ve attended many shows alone, but some of my favorites have been with my cousin. However, I wasn’t alone in Irving Plaza: a member of the Chorus community who I’d never spoken with before saw my travel plight (I was minutes away from missing the concert entirely) and hung out with me the entire time. That’s the power of music and community. That’s the power of knowing you belong somewhere. That you’re a part of something.
One of things that I’ve always found curious about mewithoutYou is how faith is worn with such openness and isn’t mocked. Maybe I’m just a little jaded by too many years on internet forums and social media, but as a person of faith, I’ve at times felt excluded from the music community. Not for anything I ever did or said, but because at times many people express ideas of “this is a place where we don’t do that.” Who among us doesn’t remember Fat Mike mocking the Warped Tour Bible study in 2006?
But mewithoutYou, even when our faiths don’t entirely overlap, always reminded me that I did belong. That my faith could be a foundation of creativity and curiosity, too. That I was included. And that it could be something that changed a person for the better. Seeing Aaron Weiss journey from the man writing “Tie Me Up! Untie Me!” to the man performing it in an almost euphoric victory lap of a career that went further than he probably ever imagined…well, it moves me.
Okay, yeah, but what about the show? They roared immediately out of the gate with “9:27 a.m., 7/29” and then they played “Tie Me Up! Untie Me!” as the second song of the set. I think you’ve gathered by now how much this meant to me. I remember the rhythm and noise of the crowd and the pulsing of the music, but my brain almost refused to do any sort of cataloging and required me to be in the moment and stay there. “Didn’t You untie me, Lord?”, a lyric sixteen years old with a lot of life lived, hits a lot different coming from a happy man. And, my God, the men of mewithoutYou looked so damn happy.
Every time they tried to speak to the crowd after blasting through a couple more songs, the band received cheers too loud to talk over. It was like everyone in there was begging them to know we were thankful, they were important, and this meant more than we could put into words. In fact, I don’t know how much they really got to say.
I didn’t like to hear Aaron sing, “It’s all the same to me – I’ll be long, long gone.” It made the farewell feel far too permanent, far too real. In some ways, lyrics about legacy speckle many mewithoutYou albums. However, in watching their faces as they performed, I think they finally began to understand how much they were loved. How much they were respected. How much they would be remembered. I hope every crowd on this tour made them feel that way.
As a writer, I don’t really get to see people react in immediate time to something I’ve created. I don’t know what it’s like to write a “hit” and then see people lose their minds when you play it. Sometimes when I attend concerts of these smaller bands (in the grand scheme; they’re major to me and you), I wonder what path brought everyone else in the crowd around me to this moment and these songs. What was the spark found in the lyrics that led to this community? I wonder what the band thinks when we collectively go off to a deeper cut like “O, Porcupine” or “Lilac Queen” instead of the obvious bangers like “Torches Together” or “Gentlemen.”
As the setlist undulated through so many different eras and album cycles and the passion remained the same from the stage and the crowd, I briefly considered the beauty of growth. Maybe I’ve read too much creative nonfiction, but my mind does honestly stray into these thoughts when I’m caught up in something so much greater than myself.
When I compare the angst of Foxes with the composed, thoughtful approach of [Untitled] to the themes of depression, I see mirrored in Aaron’s growth my own. In a year where I quietly put out a poetry collection and even more quietly quit creative writing altogether, I’ve felt more than ever that I am not noticed, that I’m not seen. In many ways, I’ve made my peace with that and built a life anyway.
I feel many of these emotions coming from Aaron’s writing as well as I listen to the albums. And it certainly feels like the Farewell Tour tore down a few of these falsehoods for him. I look forward to seeing what tears them down for me.
This review feels inadequate. This farewell feels inadequate. But I know without a doubt that if you’ve read this far, you have a memory or a story of this band, too. I’d love to read about what song meant the most to you or a time you saw them live. I think they might even stumble across us talking about them and get to read more about how they changed our lives, too.
So, to the gentlemen of mewithoutYou, thank you. I didn’t say enough, but that’s okay.
A note: mewithoutYou will be playing their final two shows in their hometown of Philadelphia at The Fillmore this weekend on Friday, August 19th and Saturday, the 20th. As of writing, tickets are shockingly still available for the 19th, while the 20th does have resale options (though, it kills me that people are trying to scalp this event, judging by prices). If you have never had the pleasure of seeing this band live and are within reasonable distance of the Philly area, please treat yourself to a night out that you’ll never forget.
If you’re like me and you can’t make it in person, the band is selling tickets to a livestream for both nights. I “attended” their hometown livestream for the Brother, Sister tour and it was excellent in video quality and sound.
mewithoutYou’s discography includes 2002’s [A→B] Life, 2004’s Catch for Us the Foxes, 2006’s Brother, Sister, 2009’s It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All a Dream! It’s Alright, 2012’s Ten Stories, 2015’s Pale Horses, and 2018’s [Untitled], alongside the I Never Said That I Was Brave EP (2001), Other Stories EP (2013), Pale Horses: Appendix EP (2016), and [untitled] EP (2018).