2018 is increasingly becoming the year of the album anniversary show with the likes of Bloc Party, Smashing Pumpkins and Los Campesinos performing iconic albums in full recently. Mew have joined this list by celebrating the 15th anniversary of their iconic album ‘Frengers’ with a double header of performances at the Barbican in London, along with accompaniment by a string quartet.
As their first major label release, Frengers was the band’s first commercial success outside of their native Denmark. The 2003 album is titled from a portmanteau of friend and stranger, which they describe as being a person who is “not quite a friend but not quite a stranger”. This contrasting term perfectly fits the album as while it is filled with heart-warming melodies accompanied with lush harmonies that can match those of any dream pop band, its textures also include more experimental elements that suggest influence was gained from shoegaze, progressive rock plus countless other genres.
While Mew remain highly appreciated by critics and fans with each release, further recognition has somehow eluded the self-described ‘indie stadium’ band unlike fellow alternative Scandinavian exports Lykke Li, The Knife and Röyksopp. However there was little concern for what the rest of the world is missing out on as the Barbican Centre Hall filled up with fans excitedly awaiting this unique performance.
This proved to be a unique event in more ways than one. The fact that it was held at the all-seated Barbican Centre Hall meant that there was no standing section within the room. However, this proved to be a blessing in disguise as it meant there would be no crowd distraction or disruption to take attention away from the performance.
Another distinctive factor from this event was the lack of a support act. Rather than having another band there to build to the atmosphere before ‘Frengers’ would be performed, Mew instead took to the stage with a set of fan favourites and rarities.
Opening with the heart-breaking ‘City Voices’, Jonas Bjerre Terkelsbol’s voice soared above the accompanying piano and strings to take the breath away from those seated in the concert hall. This mood of intimacy was then set alight with the rip-roaring guitar riff of ‘Repeaterbeater’ from ‘No More Stories…’ as the full band burst into action and their infamously textured instrumentals were first unleashed.
Highlights of this opening set were ‘Special’ and ‘The Zookeeper’s Boy’ which were both singles from their 2005 album ‘And the Glass Handed Kites’. The instantly recognisably jaunty guitar parts in ‘Special’ have made this a live classic while their performance ‘The Zookeeper’s Boy’ was simply stunning. Bjerre’s enthralling vocals were accompanied by lusciously thick atmospherics and a video backdrop of anthromorphic instrument playing animals. The cinematic visuals shown on the screen throughout the set were fittingly theatrical for this distinctive concert hall.
The opening set was rounded off with a wide array of recent commercial successes such as the arpeggiating ‘Satellites’ to early single ‘King Christian’ which was accompanied by its black and white animated music video. This opening set notably did not include any songs from their most recent album, 2017’s ‘Visuals’; instead allowing fans to further appreciate earlier releases in an afternoon filled with nostalgia.
Matching the Royal Shakespeare Company performances being held at the same time in other parts of the venue, the opening set was concluded with an interval which Bjerre stated would allow fans time to get refreshments before the rest of the show. Again, fairly unusual for a rock concert but much appreciated nonetheless as it ensured everyone would be fully ready for the highlight of the show. As everyone made their way back to their seats, excitement began to build in anticipation of this seminal album being performed in its entirety.
When the room darkened once again, the backdrop transformed into a rainy forest scene as the opening notes to ‘Am I Wry? No’ were met with a chorus of cheers. Then, it felt as though the fifteen years that have passed since the release of ‘Frengers’ had instantly melted away when Jonas Bjerre Terkelsbol’s cried out “Farah, now that you’re here” while strumming out the album opener’s iconic guitar riff.
In a set that was exquisitely faithful to the album, the only exception to this was how Mew teased the audience in ‘156’ by performing the song’s first chorus with only an atmospheric synth behind the vocals. It was a beautifully reflective moment to add to a touching song, but it also served to drum up anticipation for the song’s climatic choruses to come. The full band’s introduction electrified the crowd while the 2001: A Space Odyssey-esque light tunnel effects behind them were breath-taking.
After hitting the audience with the fantastic ‘Snow Brigade’, they rapidly changed the atmosphere the album’s next song, ‘Symmetry’ which was accompanied by a projection of Becky Jarrett performing in the single’s music video. With this, Bjerre allowed her haunting vocals to take centre-stage in an emotional display.
With ‘Behind the Drapes’, the audience were once again lifted by Bjerre’s vocals soaring over the multitudes of textures underneath it as it became clear just how impressively put together this album is. This was followed by the driving ‘Her Voice Is Beyond Her Years’ which was also accompanied in the background with shots of the song’s guest vocalist, this time the captivating Stina Nordenstam.
As they reached the latter stages of the album, ‘Eight Flew Over, One Was Destroyed’ enchanted the room with its gorgeous instrumentation and sensitively delivered vocals before the agonising ‘She Came Home for Christmas’ ripped at the heart-strings of everyone in the room. This was always going to be an emotional moment, but the hard-hitting lyrics and soaring crescendos truly came to life alongside shots of its fantasy inspired music video in an incredibly moving and emotional performance.
The audience were given only a brief moment of rest during the softly rising opening verse of ‘She Spider’ which was played to a backdrop of a slowly appearing star. Without hesitation, the star almost seemed to burst into the room when the song scorched into its chorus as Mew turned up the heat.
After the room fell silent again and transformed into a dazzling night sky, everyone present then knew exactly what was to come. Despite this, the opening notes of ‘Comforting Sounds’ were met with emphatic cheers for the nine minute epic which many would call their magnus opus.
After soaking up the wall of swirling atmospherics for the final time during the song’s extended refrain, the album’s closing song was concluded with a standing ovation from the audience in appreciation of what was a truly special experience.