Modest Mouse is a great studio group. Their almost-flawless album combo of The Lonesome Crowded West and The Moon & Antarctica hit the kind of highs that only Radiohead seems capable of topping. Their two most recent records (and an EP) are also outstanding and have catapulted the band into the popular music consciousness (thanks in large part to hit single “Float On”). Musically, they are a rewarding band that relentlessly explores the full capacity of rock and pushes toward deeper meaning and questioning in their lyrics.
Modest Mouse is also a brilliant live band, a group with raw energy, instrumental talent, and stage presence that others can only hope to approximate. Their powers are so great that they were able to overcome and still put on a great show while working past a mediocre opener and horrendous sound problems in their first few songs.
About that opener: Talkdemonic are not a very interesting group. They’re a strange mishmash of folk, rock, electronica, looped noises, and a distorted violin. The band is a duo, but the sounds presented on stage were more numbered than they had instruments in hand to produce. That’s not necessarily a problem, but the music wasn’t convincingly good enough to overcome this oddity. The sounds were uninspired drones that tried to be equal parts orchestral and dancable and failed to meet either genre. Talkdemonic didn’t totally fall completely flat with the crowd, but the music wasn’t met with enthusiasm either. Instead, they were that most dreadful of openers: instantly forgettable.
Unfortunately, Modest Mouse’s opening notes didn’t do well to wash away the poor taste. Terrible microphone feedback effectively ruined first song “Missed the Boat” as most of Issac Brock’s words were completely lost. It was clear that the audio problems were agitating the band just as much as the listeners (Brock apologized for the poor vocal pickup later in the show). Things gradually improved throughout the night, but things didn’t totally click until “Satin in a Coffin” (about five songs in) as the instrumentation (and glorious banjo) were finally accompanied by Brock’s smoke-charred voice yelping the repeated phrase “God I sure hope you are dead!” The audience came alive at this point too, and the concert was much improved from here on out.
The band really hit their groove in the latter stages of the main set as “Dramamine,” “Float On,” “Cowboy Dan,” “Education,” “Dance Hall,” and “The View” (in that order) formed a six song chunk of excellence prior to the break and first encore. With the vocal problems mostly sorted out, each track was crisp and strong. “Dance Hall” and “Float On” got The LC moving and jumping. “The View” and “Education” all but forced head-banging and fist pumping, and “Dramamine” and “Cowboy Dan” demonstrated the wandering guitars and instrumental strength that accompanies most Mouse compositions. Those six tracks form an effective sampler made even more essential by their breakneck live pace and energy.
Also of note: a smattering of unreleased songs also appeared in the setlist, but it’s tough to point out any one that stood out among the established tracks. They weren’t boring or uninteresting, just unfamiliar enough to lose some of the crowd during their playtime.
Modest Mouse fully won the crowd and atoned for the sound problems in the encore and a surprise second encore. “Gravity Rides Everything” was mesmerizing as acoustic and electric guitars blended in the reflective piece. Most noteworthy was what I assumed to be the final song: a stunning rendition of “Styrofoam Boots” that was immediately followed by “Wild Packs of Family Dogs.” Both are quiet-yet-powerful acoustic songs that filled up the whole space.
Then, just as Modest Mouse was leaving for the final time and the lights were going up, the band ran back onto the stage and Issac Brock explained that they had one more thing to say. The stage lights returned, the house lights were turned off and this turned into a thrashing, manic, monstrous performance of “Shit Luck.” It was a fantastic closer and blew me away. The rest of the crowd was pretty pleased too: the general buzz of people leaving The LC was quite positive, a remarkable turnaround from the screeching microphones hear about two hours before.
Improved early audio and a better opener would have made for a better evening, but a great late-show setlist and eventual sonic improvements made my second Modest Mouse show an excellent experience. Keep your eyes open for news about a new Modest Mouse record (it’s can’t be that far away) and be sure to see the band live if they come near you in the future.