“I’m actually just here for the opening band” is a phrase in the independent music lexicon that, along with “I like their older stuff better,” is slightly pretentious but sometimes completely appropriate. As I stood outside Off Broadway, it officially hit me: Although I left my house to see the outstanding Maps and Atlases, I have not yet heard a single note from mewithoutYou, the headlining band responsible for the line of dudes and dudettes that extended past the venue’s storefront. Having only heard mewithoutYou’s name in passing, the only thing I knew about them was their involvement in the pseudo-Christian Tooth and Nail records scene that used to annoy me oh-so-much earlier this decade.
Gasoline Heart opened the show unannounced, its name not appearing on any fliers or websites despite being the first of three bands on the entire tour. The Orlando quintet attempted anthematic rock, like Bruce Springsteen meets Hot Water Music (thanks to Erin from Maps for this too-accurate description) and reminiscent of the similarly named Gaslight Anthem.
The band’s songs were built too immaturely to be powerful in a conventional stadium rock context and too well executed to have any punk rock edge. Needless to say, Gasoline Heart’s set fell flat. (It must be noted that their singer resembles what the bald guy from Vertical Horizon probably looks like now if he put on 50 pounds after exiting the limelight.) His on-stage banter went from painfully pre-written (discussing the deer head on stage and how its proximity with a Bob Dylan poster represented America or something like that) to uncomfortably creepy (“This song is about my momma, who used to get in trouble for going to church in skirts that were just a little too short”).
As Gasoline Heart struck its last note, the smokers came in from the patio and the crowd tightened up in anticipation for Chicago’s Maps and Atlases.
Most talk of the group involves the band’s technical prowess, but the strange thing about Maps is the relative lack of flashiness to its virtuosity. All of the crazy two-hand guitar and bass tapping and “oh my god, I can’t believe I’m playing this fast” drumming comes together to form a specific language with which the band crafts beautiful, pleasant songs which have no intentions of showing off. The lack of cockiness to their songwriting separates Maps from most geeky math rock bands, and few bands, techy or not, can write hooks as strong as “Artichokes” or “Witch” from the band’s latest You and Me and the Mountain EP.
Live, Maps and Atlases is unstoppable, proving that its effortless time changes and otherworldly guitar manipulations are not the work of ProTools and effect pedals. Also, drummer Chris Hainey has really taken the jamblock to the next level, incorporating the usually novel percussion instrument effortlessly into his drum fills. Singer Dave Davidson took breaks from his if-Joanna-Newsom-was-a-dude vocals to consistently thank the crowd for attending the show. It seemed that he was as humbled by our presence in the audience as we were by his band on the stage.
I tucked away into the back of the crowd as mewithoutYou took the stage, opting to watch the show from afar as opposed to experiencing it from within. As the set began, fists were pumped and songs were sung along with, and I was certainly taken back with the fact that, although I had associated them with a scene of musicians that weren’t good enough to succeed on their own without milking the Christian rock market -- where standards are lower and kids are hungrier and richer -- the band actually rocked. mewithoutYou satisfied the anxious crowd with its driving, moody, hard-hitting indie rock, reminiscent of a faster version of Cursive’s Domestica, while its front man bounced around the stage while delivering half spoken/half sung vocals.
Shiraz, bassist of Maps and Atlases, joined the band for their whole set, as did the Vertical-Horizon looking motherfucker from Gasoline Heart, who contributed backing vocals. While mewithoutYou played its last song, the crowd flooded the stage, bouncing along with the front man and shouting along with the weird bald guy. It was a party that, because of my unfamiliarity with the band’s work, I wasn’t invited to, but I still enjoyed hanging out in the kitchen and watching the madness ensue.
-- Ryan Wasoba