Modest Mouse is not a flashy band. They are not a band who intends to come dazzle you with a performance promising to be a spectacle. If you were expecting pyrotechnics, confetti cannons, holograms, or anything in this vein of live performance, well, to quote Aziz Ansari’s apt analysis of the band: “You’re not gonna see shit like that at a Modest Mouse concert!”
Instead, Modest Mouse is content to let the music stand on its own merits. On a brisk Friday night, I entered the Myth Nightclub excited to see the band play, wondering what exactly their show might entail. Knowing that the crowd wasn’t going to get intense at such a show, I was content to take a spot on the balcony and enjoy the show from an elevated vantage point, where I would be able to watch all eight members of the band do their thing. I arrived about halfway through the set of the sole opener, Mass Gothic, and found my way to my spot on the balcony throughout the rest of their mellow and enjoyable set.
Waiting for the main event to start I chatted with my friend who had accompanied me as well as some other fans on the balcony in eager anticipation for the show. We were unsure of what to expect from the tour considering this wasn’t in support of a new album, so the band would have free range of their entire discography to craft a setlist from. This proved to be an interesting point to keep in mind as the lights dimmed and they started playing the song “Spitting Venom”, what seemed to be an unlikely opening song.
This would become a common theme throughout the entirety of the show as the band chose to forego certain hits in favor of whatever they felt like playing. What this meant for me was the realization that while I certainly used to love Modest Mouse with a passion, I hadn’t really listened to a lot of their albums in full in quite a few years and so I was confronted with the frustrating experience of recognizing a great deal of songs, but unable to recall the words in order to sing along. This personal failing aside, the songs were superbly performed and their choice to populate a set with deeper cuts is respectable.
At one point, about halfway through their set, they were playing Blame It On The Tetons; Isaac Brock stopped in the middle of the song to complain about the sound of his acoustic guitar and took a minute to fix it before continuing on. This strange snag in the night would prove to be the only one in their set but sent an air of confusion over the audience. From where I was standing (and the people around me seemed to agree) the guitar sounded absolutely fine, but Isaac Brock is, as I overheard someone say during this break, nothing if not a “man who cares about his craft.” With the guitar brought back to an acceptable quality of tone, the song continued on and the crowd exploded with joyous cheers.
This is what I mean when I talk about Modest Mouse not being a flashy band. Save for the Myth’s array of wonderful stage lighting there were no gimmicks, nothing extravagant or superfluous about the band’s performance. But that’s because there didn’t need to be. With eight members on the stage (including two drummers, which is something I’ve never seen before as a band’s standard setup), a veritable army of instruments, and more musicianship than I’d know what to do with, they simply took the stage and proceeded to purely rock for nearly two hours.
The guitars screamed, the keys danced, and the strings swayed. The groove in the air was absolutely infectious as the room was coated in song after song of intense performance. Bury Me With It struck hard and excited the room with short bursts of energy, Sugar Boats felt like drinking at a bar at sea on fire, a brawl erupting and the entire room threatening to fall apart at any moment, the opening tones to Dramamine swelled up the venue in hypnotic waves.
Even the stage banter was sparse as Isaac would mumble his way through a few sentences every few songs. His voice, while certainly unique and wonderful for the song profiles of Modest Mouse, was incredibly difficult to understand during these musical breaks. I’m still unsure of whether or not this was intentional or if perhaps it was just difficult from my vantage point on the balcony to understand him due to the acoustics of the room (as everyone around me was also having similar problems). In any case, the breaks were far and few between the songs themselves.
The true shock came with the encore of the show. As the band left the stage and everyone began to cheer we all speculated what sort of songs might appear during the encore set. “There has to be an encore,” someone next to me noted. “Well of course,” I chimed in, “they haven’t even played Float On yet!”
The crowd continued to cheer and clap for what ended up being the longest break between set and encore that I have ever experienced, lasting somewhere in the range of ten full minutes before the band reappeared. They continued to play five or six more songs… none of which were Float On! That’s right, Modest Mouse played a show and didn’t even include Float On in their setlist. I can’t fault them though, who wants to play a 14-year-old song on every tour?
Still, this wasn’t the biggest surprise of the night for me. As the encore set seemed to be wrapping up with The Good Times Are Killing Me, I was happy to be singing along and felt that this would be the true finale of the show. During the break, we had discussed what we would’ve liked to hear in the encore. Doin’ The Cockroach was favored by the man standing next to me, while I stated that I would have lost my mind had they started playing Styrofoam Boots.
During this discussion, I also made mention of a song that I noted I would really like to hear, but I knew they wouldn’t play because it just seemed like such a weird song for them to choose to play live. Imagine my surprise when at the end of The Good Times Are Killing Me they then launched into that very song. With an audible gasp from me, I started screaming along as Modest Mouse closed with the completely unexpected but immensely satisfying Shit Luck.
After that explosion of energy, the band left the stage once again and the house lights came up. The show was over, there’s simply nowhere to go after an exit like that. Modest Mouse proves that sometimes you don’t need your performance to be a spectacle. The bells and whistles are fun, this is certainly true, but every so often you can attend a show and simply watch a band do what they do, and do it well. Anyone coming solely to hear the hits may have left feeling a bit disappointed, but one thing is for sure, Modest Mouse rocked hard, played by their own rules, and didn’t compromise for anything. And if you don’t like it, you can just float on.