The Subways Love Mew: Billy Lunn of English garage rockers the Subways told us about his Mew experience at Street Scene.
Billy Lunn: The best gig I ever saw was Mew at Street Scene Festival in San Diego in 2006. I’d been a huge fan since their major-label debut LP, Frengers, was released during the years when I was still working as a linen porter in a UK hotel chain. The job entailed collecting the dirty sheets from the rooms and packaging them up – which wasn’t altogether glamorous – but it did give me ample time to listen to all my favourite albums, and eventually write songs in my head as I worked. So, when I found out we’d be sharing a lineup with them at Street Scene, I was impossibly excited. I’d never seen them play live before.
We played our set on the main stage during the day, and had a great time tearing up the stage whilst basking our pale English skin in the Californian sun. Afterwards, as we milled about backstage, Jonas, Mew’s lead singer, came over to tell me how much he enjoyed our performance. I couldn’t contain my excitement and feelings of validation, but did my utmost to do so in the moment (with as much will as my youthful spirit could muster). Mew were due to play a smaller stage a bit later in the evening, so I sat patiently in our dressing room waiting for them to finally hit the stage.
The sun had set by the time they picked up their instruments, and there were maybe 20 people at the barrier cheering their arrival. The stage they were playing was lumped just off a path leading to two other stages either side of it, so crowds were drifting by, catching small portions of Mew’s set as they shuffled on to see their preferred choice. Meanwhile, I stood dead-centre between the stage and the soundbooth, lost in a state of transcendence, mouthing their lyrics, melodies, and guitar riffs, recalling the days when my prospects seemed unlikely to amount to anything of value or meaning.
As I stood there, crowds trudging by in-front-of and behind me, all I could focus on was the majesty of this glittering performance. At points lost in the projected visuals that accompanied the songs, then lulling to-and-fro with my eyes closed, the thumping drum patterns, the simultaneously stabbing and yet roaring guitars, the soaring synth lines, the almost-mountain-high register of Jonas’s vocals (speaking of a particularly Scandinavian sense of yearning) all coalesced into a cosmic polyphony, bridging the chasm between my old life as a linen porter and my new life playing music as a way of life.
As Mew piled into the second chorus of their majestic single, 156, which remains to this day one of my all-time favourite songs, I broke down in uncontrollable weeping. With a resolute pining, Jonas saw the song out with the refrain, ‘don’t you just love goodbyes…’, and I found myself crying the words aloud. In fact, I sang through the tears so loudly that our tour manager, conscious that we had a whole tour to see through before flying back to the UK, begged me to look after my voice by miming zipping my lips shut. I refused. I couldn’t hold anything back. After that show, and even with my voice shredded the way it was for the rest of the tour, it felt like anything was possible and that everything would be okay.
The Subways Love Mew: The Subways’ new album Uncertain Joys is out now.
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