Led by Isaac Brock, Modest Mouse has carved out a pretty nice and unique career for themselves. Seemingly too abrasive for the mainstream, that didn’t stop them from getting signed to Epic for their third record and then followed by their breakthrough Good News For People Who Love Bad News, which featured the plangent “Float On” that finally hit the receptors of the American public. Tonight the band would focus on their second record, enjoying its silver anniversary. If you listen closely, you can pick up components of Pixies, Sunny Day Real Estate and even bits of Unwound, and Modest Mouse seems an unlikely band to attract the attention of Johnny Marr enough for him to join the band for We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank, but defying expectations is all part of Brock’s game.
Coming on stage in monogrammed denim jackets with the album title emblazoned on the back and their name on the front aside Brock who had “happy stuff” stitched into his, the band got right into it. Whenever a band trots out a specific record in its entirety, there are always good and not so good aspects. The set list order is pre-ordained so there’s little surprises coming aside what the band has cooked up for the encore, and you have to suffer through the duds of the record. I doubt that Radiohead would ever do a complete performance of OK Computer but if they did, would they inflict “Fitter, Happier” on the audience? In any event, I doubt that “Long Distance Drink” is a set list staple and google confirms that the band has never played this on previous tours. “Lounge (Closing Time)” was skipped but for different reasons as Brock relayed “We’re not playing ‘ Lounge’, I’ll tell you why… It’s a hard fucking song.”
The good part is that worthier but often-shunned songs also get their moment to shine, such as “Jesus Was An Only Child” and “Bankrupt On Selling” and of course the reason the record is celebrated as a key component of their history is because of scorchers like “Cowboy Dan,” “Shit Luck” and especially “Trucker’s Atlas” which found Brock screaming into his guitar pickups like Frank Black. A poignant aspect to this tour stop was the absence of original drummer Jeremiah Green who last played at the LA show on December 1st; last week Brock made a statement that Green was undergoing cancer treatment and then his passing was announced on the final day of 2022. In retrospect, a line from “Polar Opposites” really jumps out (“Primer gray is the color when you’re done dying”).
Opening this leg of the tour was a one man performance act called Mattress. Not the easiest word to google when trying to learn more and I can’t think all the good band names are taken but Rex Marshall wasn’t too hard to track down. It takes a handful or two of chutzpah to get up on stage in front of a packed room that’s there to see someone else, and increasingly so when you have no bandmates to help take cover with, alone only with a sequencer and a gold lamé suit with sparkly loafers. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed his performance, a mix of lounge-adjacent electropop crossed with a pretty cunning sense of wordplay and humor. Equal parts Nick Cave, Ian Svenonius and Bill Callahan. Would see again!