(Above: The Mouse’s pre-show view of the Uptown Theater.)
By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star
When Modest Mouse last played Kansas City 18 months ago it was promoting a No. 1 album on a sweltering night at one of the city’s worst outdoor venues (City Market). The band returned on a frigid Monday night to play before a full house at one of Kansas City’s best indoor venues, the Uptown Theater. With no new material to promote, Isaac Brock and his band played whatever they wanted.
The band hit the stage like they were shot out of cannon, launching into a vicious reading of “Bury Me With It” that featured a guitar part that sounded like something from Sonic Youth. With barely a pause, one of the most successful indie rock bands on the scene today tore into a ferocious “Never Ending Math” that set a high bar for the evening to follow.
They were more than up to the task. The six-piece band was on top of its game, stopping and starting and changing dynamics on a dime. Grandaddy guitarist Jim Fairchild, who is sitting in for ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr on this tour, played well off lead singer Brock’s parts, particularly on “Interstate 8” and “Dramamine.” Fairchild even kicked in some vocals on “Satellite Skin.”
Although every performance was impressive, the band was at its best when it could stretch out. Epic performances of “Dramamine,” “The View” and “Breakthrough” built layer on top of hypnotic layer until it felt like the song would explode out of the building.
As powerful as the epics were, the band knew how to bring things down, like during an almost-unplugged version of “Bukowski” in which Brock channeled his inner Bela Fleck on banjo and a lovely bowed bass and accordion solo. Earlier in the evening, “Custom Concern” was a welcome come-down after the intense marathon numbers.
The only concessions to casual fans were “Float On,” which featured a shiny ‘80s keyboard part on the chorus, and a breakneck reading of “Dashboard,” complete with trumpet. Other than that, the evening was devoted to older songs and album cuts like the trippy “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes,” which sounded like an underwater fight with the devil.
The band played too loud and fast to incorporate much audience feedback, but the crowd was more than appreciative. The opening chords to nearly every number drew big cheers of recognition, and while it was impossible to hear anyone singing along, the swaying arms and moving lips were unmistakable signs of approval.
The enthusiasm was infectious. The notoriously and self-admittedly grumpy Brock was clearly having good time. After castigating a fan for requesting older material immediately following a song from their first album, Brock settled down. He showed off the black light posters he purchased the night before in Boulder, Colo. and told an affectionately rambling story about Roger Miller’s “Kansas City Star.” Brock promised to play the song from his iPod for the crowd after the show, but ZZ Top appeared somehow instead. No one complained.
Setlist: Bury Me With It, Never Ending Math, The View, Dramamine, Wild Packs of Family Dogs,Tiny Cities Made of Ashes, Custom Concern, Float On, Bukowski, Interstate 8, All Nite Diner, Parting of the Sensory. Encore: Third Planet, Satellite Skin, Dashboard, Baby Blue Sedan, Black Cadillacs.
Keep reading: A 2007 interview with Isaac Brock.