In the dark of Breese Stevens Field, lights erupted. Multicolored variations sparkled on instruments and curtains. A troupe of unshaven men crowded the stage, one standing apart, his face alone illuminated. Layered bass and tenor vocals swirled with tilted guitar chords, floating melodies, and scattered drum set. It was auditory delight.
To prepare myself for Modest Mouse this past Saturday, I went through their discography, reminding myself what they were about. I started with their very beginnings, drowning in the dissatisfied angst in lyrics and lilting riffs of almost-out-of-tune guitars. In middle albums I listened to a refining of that sound, with pop-sensibilities and “hit” singles being more common, but still keeping their pulsating indie heart. And their most recent efforts I saw as a loss of some of the emotion of the music, but gaining catchiness and irresistible grooves. And all the while they were the weirdest examples of their sound that I could think of.
I give this account to describe not just how varied their music can be, but also because knowing the history of Modest Mouse was important to understanding their performance on Saturday. The band played songs from their entire discography, jumping around the years from note to note. Because of such variance in style, as a listener it required some feel-gymnastics to keep up with the change in groove from song to song. And during concert, it was definitely not doable for everybody. There were middle-aged parents who looked truly uncomfortable with the angst-driven chromatic noise-solos in the extended version of “King Rat”. And some hipster teens looked just checked out on more danceable tunes like “Lampshades On Fire”.
Despite this disparity, the band performed every song with expertise. Longer tunes definitely stole the spotlight, with “Dramamine” and “King Rat” getting extended instrumental sections that were some of the highlights of the entire concert. Between tracks, frontman Isaac Brock was borderline performance art, taking multiple minutes to praise god, and most of the time being totally indecipherable with really fast muttering. And it all contributed to the eccentricity of both the band’s persona as well as its music. It was one to stick in my memory for a while.