Mew: Shepherds Bush Empire, 10th November ‘09

As icy autumn dew flickers off the patchy blades of malnourished grass on Shepherds Bush green, surrounded by the overbearing commercialism of Westfield shopping centre and colossal cinema complexes, a paralleled chillingly beautiful prospect awaits. In a frozen dressing room, guitarist extraordinaire of Danish cult overlords and perpetual outsiders Mew, Bo Madsen sprawls apprehensively over the sort of brown varnished sofa usually seen gracing the pavements of West London, as the heating finally surges through air vents overhead and distant sirens blare. Named allegedly after the noises gargled incomprehensibly by seagulls, as self-professed ‘extreme seagull enthusiasts’ they’re a far cry from the indie-by-numbers known to clog the arteries of the British mainstream contemporarily. Combine their solidarity and isolation (hailing from the suburbs of Copenhagen, Madsen categorically denies any affiliation ‘even in the slightest’ with a single other Danish act) with the androgynous vocal swathes of otherworldly extrovert and lead singer Jonas Bjerre and it becomes desperately apparent as to why their latest effort, the comfortingly discomforting No More Stories..., a self-confessed ‘extravagant and adventurous record’, peaked, predictably underwhelming, outside of the UK Top 100. Endearingly evading the internet so as not to ‘look at each other from the outside’, the mark of their underground following is a sold-out show at the Shepherds Bush Empire, a venue steeped in the faded glories of Eurovision and pre-war music hall balls, beautifully juxtaposing the decaying glamour of years gone by with the shimmering star upon which Mew have ascended over the past decade. Having pulsated through the motorway veins of Britain throughout the past week, the London climax provides the apt finale...

Staring out over the seas of adoring, awaiting, nail-in-teeth obsessives fellow Danes Choir Of Young Believers (or Jannis Noya Makrigiannis backed up by organic trip-hop drum’n’bass and baroque cello washes) channel Fleet Foxes’ harmonious folk before injecting a serotonin kick into proceedings, with the lavishly uplifting Action/ Reaction. Makrigiannis’ beard threatens to swallow his entire face before their drastically diminished set vanishes into a hazy euphoria yet the desperately damning truth is that had Robin Pecknold’s Sub Pop darlings not rocked the music world when their self-titled LP crashed everything from Glastonbury to the Brits last year, this Choir may be converting a fair few more Believers, both young and old alike.
Where the stomps of Makrigiannis and his trusted cohorts garner smiles through minimal simplicity, Mew revert to grandiose spotlight strip lights, impeccably constructed stop-start animation backdrops and cataclysmic, sky-shattering Telecaster jabs. With the melancholic swoons of Reprise reverberating around the balconies of the Empire, Bjerre emerges amongst a swell of strobe, a gush of dry ice and the rapture of a gushing mass and once the calypso chimes of Hawaii strike, reminiscent of Bounty bars on golden beaches, the throng is rendered inanimate, entranced by the waves upon waves of majestic musical wizardry cast over an effervescent ninety minutes. Reindeer skeletons gallop behind fogged beacons beaming up to the lofty third tier before Madsen unleashes a fuzzed-up apocalyptic intro and Special rears its oracular head. As ethereal as ever, Special morphs magnificently into The Zookeeper’s Boy, which sounds as though the ceiling’s about to crack above the hurricane howls of Bjerre’s desperate demanding of ‘So are you my lady, are you?’ Following the most devastating duo drawn from 2005’s And The Glass Handed Kites, Frengers faves Am I Wry, No? and 156 follow, catapulting the great Danes into the realms of the stratospheric. With every last body and soul in the room on-side, the trio road test the hauntingly alluring Bamse, a duet between Bjerre and a baritone bear who emerges from a spark of glowing light in perhaps the most touching moment of an ultimately breath-taking spectacular, as hearts break and shatter on the beer-soaked floor below. The low-slung slump of Silas the Magic Car lulls us into a false state of security, before forthcoming single Repeater Beater is triggered traumatically, and the frenetic snare stabs of Snow Brigade steal every breath and every sigh from every pair of lips present. Disappearing temporarily, Bjerre, Madsen and drummer Silas Jørgensen reappear to conclude in typically emphatic fashion, as the vacuous opening twangs of Comforting Sounds reduce weary hearts and bleary eyes to gushing, aqueous pools of sorrowful triumph. On such electric form, there’s no desire whatsoever to escape from Bjerre’s Snow Brigade: forget contender for gig of the year, this may well be the night of the Noughties.