Concert review: mewithoutYou, Kevin Devine and Buried Beds cover all the bases at Off Broadway, Sunday, July 15

Philadelphia band Buried Beds started the night off at Off Broadway with poppy fervor. The five piece featured headliner mewithoutYou‘s drummer Rickie Mazzotta, who held down the skins with booming intensity.

Male/female vocals from guitarist Brandon Beaver and organist/guitarist Eliza Jones gave the performance a dramatic undertone. Violinist Hallie Sianni’s plucking and bowing kept Buried Beds from indulging too much in the sugary sheen pop side of their songs or getting too ominously dark. The same can be said for bassist Tom Mallon’s gritty tone. I kept getting a happy Cursive vibe, or a tamed-down tUnE-yArDs approach from Jones. Overall, the band embodied an early 2000s indie pop sound purveying intricately complex instrumentation and melodious, introspective crooning. This being the first time I’d heard the band, I was unable to get too close to the lyrics. That being said, if Buried Beds were singing about something they were pissed about, they did it with a smile on their face.

My initial introduction to second act Kevin Devine came through my high-school years in the early 2000s, spent pouring every page of Alternative Press and devotedly scanning the front page of the punk message board I had really gotten into Devine’s album “Brother’s Blood” a couple years back and was expecting a full band to be on stage with him, but instead found Devine strumming an acoustic vulnerably.

This aesthetic worked rather well for his brand of Neil Young fronting Brand New tunes, as confessional and visceral as either act. Preceded by an in-store performance at Vintage Vinyl, Devine’s set drew on a great part of his catalogue, including new song “Luxembourg” and the stand-out “Brother’s Blood.” Brought out late in the set, Devine’s intimate, grizzled voice over the stripped-down acoustic “Brother’s Blood” caused the crowd to erupt with applause any time there was a brief silent moment in the song.

Performing the politically-searing “The Burning City Smoking” off of 2006′s “Put Your Ghost to Rest,” Devine talked about the importance of Woody Guthrie and proceeded to dedicate the song to his memory. The lyrics from “The Burning City Smoking” properly reflect Guthrie’s talent for seeing America for what it is with “Forty million refugees with no place on this earth to call their home/One for every aimless graduate with nothing else to show for it but loans/And those of us who make our mark use someone else’s blood/Our western stain won’t wash away, it won’t vanish in the flood.”

I’m not usually into solo acoustic acts, but Devine’s performance totally won me over. His willingness to put himself out there and sing what seems to be on the hearts of many from the Millennial Generation showed his true colors. If the cost of the latest Iraq war had a soundtrack, it could easily be from Kevin Devine’s lips.

Not to be overly melodramatic about headliner mewithoutYou, but this was literally the band that got me seriously into music. I remember hearing their first album “A to B Life” in the back of a van when I was 13, instantly flipping my perception of how personal and compelling music could really be.

Since then, I’ve caught the band in every possible live setting. From the circus tents of the recently defunct Cornerstone Festival in rural Illinois to a somewhat shady bar/venue in Charlotte, N.C., I’ve followed the band as they evolved from post-hardcore leaning screamers to folk-rock evangelists. Central to the band’s sound and live show is vocalist Aaron Weiss. His style of scream singing spawned a number of copycat bands in recent years, but I have yet to hear a songwriter who can mimic his hyper-literate lyrics.

mewithoutYou opened with the sleigh bell-jingling, smoothly gut-wrenching “February 1878″ off its newest album, this year’s “Ten Stories.” Launching into “Tie Me Up, Untie Me” from 2004′s “Catch For Us the Foxes” Weiss and his brethren shook the room with cunningly-placed guitar brooding from Michael Weiss (Aaron’s brother and cofounder of the band). mewithoutYou spun songs about their faith, interspersed with folk tales from across the spectrum of religious beliefs. The subtle acoustic picking of “East Enders Wives” (also off “Ten Stories) pounced about with an eerie joyfulness, recalling one of the band’s main influences, Neutral Milk Hotel.

The band’s live lineup featured Brandon Beaver on guitar from opening band Buried Beds, who seemed to fit right into the 12-year-old band with grace. “A Glass Can Only Spill What It Contains” and “The Angel of Death Came to David’s Room” showcased the its instrumental proficiency, but for the first time I felt that mewithoutYou seemed more focused on sounding good than necessarily putting on a good live show. They were still incredible to see live, but a shift in focus may come from the increasing age and maturity of the band. “Cardiff Giant” possessed a mystical quality akin to an “All Things Must Pass”-era George Harrison song.

Occasionally using a sitar-like sounding pedal, mewithoutYou might be one of the most psychedelic bands that isn’t into psychedelics (presumably due to its Christian beliefs). “January 1979″ ripped the room into a frenzy, as the buzzed, former youth-group attendee’s connection with the band was rekindled with the memory of originally discovering the single from “Catch for Us the Foxes.” Last song “All Circles” found Weiss with accordion in hand and fuzzed-out guitars recalling what a T. Rex cover band on Saddle Creek records would sound like. Encore “In a Sweater Poorly Knit” shimmered with reverbed ambience as Weiss talked/sang a tale weaving biblical themes (name checking Moses), Buddhist theology (“I do not exist”) and a relation with someone gone awry.

All in all, mewithoutYou is still one of my top picks to catch live. Their devotion to crafting folk-based indie rock is alluring to the extent of personal obsession. Moreover, Off Broadway’s barn-and-brick atmosphere continues to be my favorite spot in town to catch a show, and the night’s lineup was top notch. Buried Beds brought the pop, Kevin Devine the heart, and mewithoutYou the reason why it’s just not enough to listen to a band with headphones.