I can’t lie. I went to Modest Mouse with a shitty attitude. My mood didn’t have anything to do with the band. I’ve seen them before. It’s been a while. I had been looking forward to seeing if they still delivered as relentless a blast of driving indie rock as other shows I’ve seen of theirs over the years. But my mood prevailed, and I kind of wanted to be mad at Modest Mouse for no reason other than trying to force my grump into a direction.
The Crescent Ballroom hosted the show outside, behind the venue. A massive stage was hoisted up, and the place was jam-packed — sold the hell out. I might have been looking to beat up on the band as a sponge for my angsty bullshit, but once they took the stage and started playing, well, I got my ass handed to me.
And I never say that. Only because it’s an expression I hate — and there are a lot of them — so when you can, spare me your totes perf adorb legit scenarios. But in this case, it was as if the band came right over to me, and lifted the lid on a silver platter containing my ass and regally stated, “Your ass, madam, here the fuck it is."
They opened with “Dramamine,” from their first release, This is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About, from 1996. No one seemed to be disappointed to hear this classic with its swaying guitars that seesaw between melodic and heart-tugging with edgier, noisier chops.
The sound was so good. Just big, booming, and super crisp.
The Modest Mouse stage is one that’s loaded with people. Singer/guitarist Isaac Brock may have recently lost original bassist Eric Judy, but he and the other founding member, Jeremiah Green, have a slew of skilled folks up there playing violin, horns, multiple keyboards, handling extra guitar work, and even a second drummer.
From there, they played “Missed the Boat,” and when that wrapped, Brock addressed the crowd with a “Hi, how you doing?” and said he hoped people were wearing insoles, since we were standing out in a parking lot. He traded some friendly banter with a couple people in the crowd for a sec, and then did “What People Are Made Of” and “Dashboard.”
When the latter happened, the already-jazzed crowd went into high gear over that hit. The energy on stage cranked up even more, too.
Brock started “Interstate 8” but abandoned it for a minute to tune and then launched into that song. It was huge and sweeping, more bitter-sad than bittersweet. For “King Rat,” Brock traded his guitar for a banjo. That song sounds like what I imagine a shipwreck feels like and also maintains that pervasive hypno-chaos that they do so well. Brock said that playing the banjo makes him feel like he’s losing teeth, “Not in the hillbilly way, but just how the sound feels like it’s taking teeth from my mouth.”
There wasn’t much band-to-crowd talk last night, but I don’t think anyone was expecting that.
It was a show without a lot of frills. Their songs are individually kind of intense conversations and they delivered a bunch of them from their 20-plus-year catalog. The energy from the stage didn’t hit a lull all night.
The first round of 17 songs wrapped with “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes,” and they took a pretty brief break before returning for the encore. “Ocean Breathes Salty,” “Paper Thin Walls,” and “The Good Times are Killing Me,” were the enders. These three powerful songs — musically and lyrically — made for a nice gut-punch of a close.
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"Missed the Boat"
"What People Are Made Of"
"The Ground Walks, With Time in a Box"
"Night on the Sun"
"The Devil’s Workday"
"Grey Ice Water"
"Fly Trapped in a Jar"
"Lampshades on Fire"
"Doin’ the Cockroach"
"Shit in Your Cut"
"Tiny Cities Made of Ashes"
"Ocean Breathes Salty"
"Paper Thin Walls"
"The Good Times Are Killing Me"
Last Night: Modest Mouse on an outdoor stage at Crescent Ballroom.
The crowd: Mixed bag of fans.
Overheard: “They didn’t play 'Float On,' and I am so fucking glad. I like it a lot but you know what I mean, dude? Like, that’s cool.”
Notebook dump: I expected more man buns.