Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Concert Review :: Modest Mouse - Lupos, Providence, RI, May 2nd, 2007

Any song by Modest Mouse reveals the band’s unconventional style. Flowing bipolar vocals, catchy ethereal guitar and soft yet abrasive beats create an irresistibly bizarre sound. Everything about their live show echoes this same curious style. Their two openers were given an hour each to do whatever they wanted. The second opener, Man Man, is exactly the kind of band you would expect Modest Mouse to ally with. Their look, first off, was nothing close to that of a rock star. They were ugly, portly with long greasy and curly hair in matching white uniforms with face paint under their eyes like their microphones had been placed on the goal line of some imaginary football game. A small setup with keyboards and drums up front facing one another and three mics behind who’s owners were brandished with unusual instruments like blow pianos. These are essential small, handheld keyboards with a mouthpiece at one end held, played like a clarinet. A guitar seemed to be an optional instead of essential addition to the arrangement. Combined with the sporadic vocals, the whole set challenged the convention of what a band should look like and how music should be composed.

Looming in the background of both opening bands were several black stands that branched out like the arms of some PVC tree, each limb carrying a lantern. Before Modest Mouse emerged from backstage, they began to glow like miniature lighthouses, guiding the audience’s eyes to the stage. An appropriate choice for their nautically themed new album, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. The usual bassist, Eric Judy, was unexplainably absent from the stage, but Brandon Angle from Love As Laughter took up his duties. The band began with a pulse pounding performance of ‘Bury Me With It’ and then passed into ‘Paper Thin Walls’ from The Moon and Antarctica, proving two things; the new guitarist, Johnny Marr (formerly of The Smiths), a wise addition as he could accurately thrash through their old material and the mouse hadn’t forgotten about the fans they made when they weren’t nationally popular.

The vocalist, Isaac Brock, was stationary for the whole performance, with few words in between songs. There was an ancillary mic set up that was distorted to mimic the megaphone effects that are present in the vocals on many of the recorded versions of the songs. Its presence made it clear that this was a band that strived for an intriguing and accurate live performance. The demeanor of the musicians especially Brock was intense and serious. Towards the end of ‘Florida,’ halfway through the set, Brock stopped short because someone in the front of the crowd had been hurt. He let out a resounding “What the fuck is going on here?” almost agitated that he had been interrupted.

Old favorites were served up with new ferocity, like the extended versions of ‘Trailer Trash’ and ‘Doin’ The Cockroach.’ The latter was probably most impressive as it was almost double the length of the version present on The Lonesome Crowded West. The band performed their best new songs, including ‘Education,’ ‘Little Motel,’ and ‘Missed the Boat,’ but the best part of the show was the antique encore. They began with ‘Dramamine,’ which had lyrics from ‘Life Like Weeds’ spliced into it and then transitioned into ‘Breakthrough.’ Both tracks are from This is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About, the band’s first album and songs only true fans would know. They finished the show with the already long ‘Spitting Venom,’ by extending it to add portions of ‘I Came as a Rat.’ As the lanterns faded and the house lights came on, Modest Mouse had made it clear that they were the same band that had played small clubs in Issaquah all those years ago.

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