“Now it’s just Rival Schools and mewithoutYou on our car rides”
– The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die, “Gig Life”
I came to mewithoutYou by way of the epigraphical line from TWIABP’s probably-now-old-enough-to-be-called seminal record WHENEVER, IF EVER. mewithoutYou was, for years, always a band I’d heard a lot about, even after listening to “Gig Life.” I had heard the band spoken about in terms of its tenacity—“these guys have been doing this a long time,” was always the sentiment. In 2013, when TWIABP’s debut dropped, mewithoutYou had been touring for over a decade and would continue to do so for nearly a decade more. But the first time I heard mewithoutYou, I was confident I had never heard anything like it.
This brings us to the first hurdle of how to cleverly and effectively describe the music.
The Weiss brothers were born Jewish, but over two decades of songwriting together, Jewish, Muslim, and Christian ideals have touched their lives and music. The songs Aaron Weiss (frontman, brother, singer-songwriter) wrote for mewithoutYou were never explicitly Christian, nor Jewish. Despite the band releasing its first four records on Tooth & Nail—the prominent Christian rock label—their relationship to God was always in contention. Even in the early records, A->B LIFE and CATCH US FOR THE FOXES, where the imagery stuck to the more biblical, mewithoutYou delivered songs both heavier and more insightful than their peers. Aaron’s screams retold personal tragedies using biblical metaphor. He was not afraid to be too dark, nor too existential. This led to the crises of faith explored in the band’s third record, 2006’s BROTHER, SISTER; the album fans often consider to be their best was both more refined and more experimental than their previous work. Imagery of animals and a new softer spirituality began to creep into the work, as did a whole new world of instrumentation beyond guitar, bass, and drums.
I could continue one by one, because each mewithoutYou album is an evolution, each informed by the last—or even the one before that. 2015’s PALE HORSES was a return to form that was nonetheless influenced by the experiments begun on the folksy follow up to BROTHER, SISTER—IT’S ALL CRAZY! IT’S ALL FALSE! IT’S ALL A DREAM! IT’S ALRIGHT! The record featured almost entirely clean vocals and a newfound focus on straightforward storytelling that would rear its head again in fascinating forms throughout mewithoutYou’s discography. While IT’S AlL CRAZY was popular upon release, it’s viewed as a mostly disappointing departure. But the way I see it, the band’s failed experiments are crucial. It felt like mewithoutYou was a band that would keep getting better forever.
An inability to pigeonhole mewithoutYou into a single genre spoke to what made the band special. With a breadth of ever-evolving work that spanned the years 2002-2018—and about two decades worth of touring—the band became an icon for DIY and emo acts through multiple waves of the scene. They weren’t just Hayley Willaims’ favorite band, mewithoutYou was loved and shared that love at every show. The band’s Farewell Tour this summer marked the end of an iconic era.
I saw mewithoutYou for the first time in 2018, but wound up seeing them more than a handful of times in the chaotic years to come. That show had marked the release of what became the band’s final album, UNTITLED.
I remember immediately being struck by their presence at that show. I remember Aaron’s two microphone set-up (one heavily-filtered to match the recording sound of his voice on many of the later records). I remember his energy, as the way he wildly swung between the two mics was like nothing I’d seen before. I’d eventually learn that this stage setup came after many years, but the energy… that energy is there going back to videos of mewithoutYou in 2001. It was there at those final shows too.
The two-hour Farewell Tour shows speak to the band’s power more than any individual night. An impressive over-20-song set is a showcase of the stamina built up through a lifetime of touring, as well as the variety needed to carry that time slot. But looking at the setlists in totality, you see mewithoutYou played nearly two-thirds of their entire catalog over the course of their final month of shows. You never quite knew what you would get, but looking at all the sets, there was always something special. Each night’s set was not just a well-considered mix of records, but a refreshing back-and-forth between fan-favorites and deeper cuts.
Not many of their contemporaries in emo, or any genre for that matter, could sustain that type of show, but leaving the gig I felt like it was the kind of thing they could have kept doing for decades—without needing to make more records. The vitality and scope of mewithoutYou’s discography was never seen more clearly until the very end.
In the wake of seeing one of the shows, I obsessively pored over mewithoutYou tracks, new and old. I gave records I’d passed on second chances, discovering my love for PALE HORSES. Its closing track, “Rainbow Signs,” has become my favorite song. In the record’s closing moments after one last explosive section of guitar and streaming vocals—the end of the world per the record’s concept—Aaron quietly whispers a verse about his father. I am reminded all at once about the transience of all things and of my own father, to whom my conception and connection to religion revolves around. I hear the resonance of his faith and my own doubts in Aaron Weiss’ words. And I am convinced that we have not lost anything with the departure of mewithoutYou. We have been given a gift.
Dear Mr. Ted Davis, just read your great article on Pharoah Sanders. As a devotee of Pharoah since receiving a gift of “Karma” on 8 track at it’s release ,no less, I must comment. With all due respect the wonderful vocals you attributed to Pharaoh on the Master Plan and Colors cuts are not his. They are the voice of the late, great Leon Thomas. Pharaoh did not have a great singing voice. PEACE