The last time Mew played London, it was at the Roundhouse, with all of the founder members still in the band at that point. Since then, guitarist Bo Madsen left – an unexpected turn of events in what has otherwise been a year of the Danish trio returning to the fold in spectacular style. +- is their most starry-eyed and stratospheric record to date and it’s arguably the best since their international breakthrough in 2003, Frengers.
On the first of two nights at Village Underground, billed as An Evening With Mew, there is no fanfare to announce their arrival. Johan Wohlert, their bassist, who returned to the fold this year following a near ten-year absence, quipped that Noel Gallagher’s recent stint as support act for himself in Lincoln finally convinced them to go acoustic before the main set.
It’s their first proper go at it, and it’s so spellbinding that you wonder why it took them so long. As you’d expect from something different from their norm, there are surprises in store. Symmetry and Behind The Drapes, both old favourites, get an airing alongside a sublime rendition of Why Are You Looking Grave. They also manage to throw in a gorgeous version of Water Slides. For a band not known for their rootsy moments, this initial half-an-hour is a pleasant surprise.
Following a short break, they return with gusto, strobes and, on occasion, quirky and gleefully odd visuals. Yet what’s apparent throughout their main set is just how many outstanding songs they have – enough to sink many of the current crop of mega stadium bands. The Zookeeper’s Boy sounds colossal, the velocity of Snow Brigade is utterly brutal and the one-two punch of Am I Wry? No and 156 are wonderfully anthemic. Just like the first performance, it’s the lesser-known deep cuts that really impress. Sometimes Life Isn’t Easy is an underrated gem and the twelve or so minutes of Rows are enthralling.
As the last echoes of Comforting Sounds, their behemoth of a set closer, reverberate around the brick walls, people start filling out into the wintery London night more than satisfied. As setlists go, it’s hard to think of a better selection of songs. Their sound is the most euphoric and epic they’ve ever been. Their power as a live act clearly hasn’t diminished. In a way, it’s absolutely scandalous that they are still playing venues that are, relatively speaking, small as opposed to the arenas that their considerably more famous peers are headlining. In another way, it’s good that they remain one of rock’s best kept secrets.