Review: Modest Mouse (2010)

(Above: Modest Mouse perform “Baby Blue Sedan” at a previous stop in Kansas City, Mo., at the Uptown Theater in March, 2009.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Early in his first visit to Crossroads, Modest Mouse singer Isaac Brock was quick to point out the venue’s most distinctive feature. After the second song, he told the sold-out crowd the band had a “super awesome” gift for everyone: they each got to take home a wood chip.

The six members of the indie rock band were so excited about their present they flubbed the first verse of the next song “We’ve Got Everything.” After taking a brief moment to regroup they returned to the number with increased fervor. It was the only misstep of the two-hour set that found the band growing stronger with each number.

The set opened with slow, droning intro to “Gravity Rides Everything,” which gave way to a gentle wash of acoustic guitar. With three guitarists and two drummers, Modest Mouse’s songs were never lacking in texture. Frequently the band went one step further, substituting banjo, violin and keyboards. During “Gravity,” Brock held his acoustic guitar up to the speakers a la Pete Townshend for a nice burst of feedback. The combination of two trumpets and Brock’s banjo on “King Rat” and “Devil’s Workday” created a kind of demented Dixieland.

While two of the band’s biggest songs – “Float On” and “Florida” – were absent, they weren’t missed. The opening bars of nearly every number were greeted with huge cheers of recognition, regardless if it was a single like “Dashboard” or album cut like “Paper Thin Walls.” The 18-song setlist was democratically split between the band’s three most recent albums, with a few added nuggets. There was very little chatter during songs in the crowd or between them onstage; the music captured everyone’s attention.

“Whale Song” featured a lengthy opening and Brock’s signature guitar style. Brock has a way of bending notes while hitting them with the whammy bar that makes his guitar sound like a drunken Jew’s harp. Although touring guitarist Jim Fairchild, formerly of Granddaddy, shared the stage, Brock chose to do most of the heavy lifting. After “Whale,” each song seemed to build on the intensity of the previous performance. By “Devil’s Workday,” which featured another great stinging solo from Brock, and “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes” the band was cranking at 11.

That intensity made “Fire It Up” seem even more low-key, with the entire band riding Eric Judy’s loping bass line. “Blame it on the Tetons” had a gentle, folksy feel supported by Tom Peloso’s violin. New song “Here’s To Now” also featured Peloso’s fiddle, which had everyone clapping along to the two-step rhythm.

The biggest contrast of the night, however, may have been the response to “Parting of the Sensory.” Brock could never be mistaken for an optimist, but the audience danced and sang along to the nihilistic refrain of “someday you will die and somehow something’s going to steal your coffin” like it was the Jackson 5. It would have been the perfect ending, but the band had one more treat in “Black Cadillacs.” Even without the souvenir wood chip, it wasn’t a night anyone will soon forget.

Setlist: Gravity Rides Everything; The View; We’ve Got Everything; King Rat; Here It Comes; Fire It Up; Whale Song; Paper Thin Walls; Here’s to Now (new song); Baby Blue Sedan; Dashboard; Satin in a Coffin; Devil’s Workday; Tiny Cities Made of Ashes; Encore: Blame It On the Tetons; Third Planet; Parting of the Sensory; Black Cadillacs.

Keep reading:

Review: Modest Mouse (2009)

Modest Mouse: Johnny Strikes Up the Band (2007)

Review – The Black Keys

(Below: Don’t mess with Isaac Brock.)


Review: Modest Mouse


(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.

Modest Mouse: Johnny Strikes Up the Band

Modest Mouse

The Kansas City Star 


Isaac Brock says he isn’t surprised that Modest Mouse hit the mainstream a few years ago. Maybe that’s because he doesn’t really think about it.

“I don’t ask myself why people like an album,” said Brock, who founded the band in 1993. “Thinking about those things doesn’t take up as much of my mental sphere as cleaning my floor.”

In 2004 the band went from underground status to platinum-sellers with “Good News for People Who Love Bad News.”

When it came time to work on the follow-up, “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank,” Brock didn’t worry about what anyone would expect: longtime fans, Top 40 scenesters or record executives at Sony. His lack of concern paid off. Even with two new faces in the band — former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr and prodigal founding drummer Jeremiah Green (who quit in 2003) — the record has been a success.

“For me … it’s counterproductive to think about that stuff,” Brock said. “Somehow we are able to leave all of that at the studio door and start from scratch.

“People assume since Johnny’s in the band he’s changed how we did things. But there are six people in this band, and everyone contributes in their own way. We all do it.”

In other words, don’t come to the show expecting “The Queen Is Dead, Part II.”

“It’s a funny thing,” Brock said. “There will definitely be people who show up based on the premise that Johnny is in the band. But our shows are going to be a lot uglier than what the Smiths did.”

Still, Marr’s contributions influence more than the songs he worked on in the studio. Brock said Marr’s impact on the older material is noticeable.

“That’s where we’ve gotten a lot stronger,” Brock said. “I told him that on any song he didn’t have to play it as it had been played before. Make your own canvas. It would have been a waste if I didn’t let him make his own imprint.”

While Marr’s arrival to the Mouse has generated most of the publicity, Brock also welcomed founding drummer Green back after a one-album absence.

“He just needed to take a break,” Brock said, declining to elaborate on why Green left other than saying he “went out of town for a while.”

“Everyone who leaves is welcome to come back,” Brock said, “with some exceptions.”

Brock said he was surprised at the synergy Green has with Modest Mouse’s second drummer, newcomer Joe Plummer.

“We brought Joe in to play percussion, but the way he and Jeremiah have been playing together as drummers is very cool,” Brock said. “It’s much more interesting than I ever expected.”

Making music that is interesting is the only gauge Brock has for his artistic process.

“It would take a change in who I am for me to care too much,” he said. “I’m not much interested in much other than being who I am.”