By Mark Guarino
Modest Mouse is in their moment. Even though the Northwest band made many critically acclaimed albums, built a large audience and become collegiate rock favorites over a span of 10 years, suddenly this summer, they are being treated like breakout stars.
Partial reason is due to a genuine hit single (“Float On”) but a larger debt can be paid to an official shift in tastes. It was only yesterday that commercial rock radio was obsessed with one note rap rock bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit. But ever since those bands peaked and began sliding in popularity, the chase is on for bands that all this time have been working quietly behind the scenes, playing to audiences that wrote the mainstream off a long time ago. It’s the case once again of the media catching up with what the public genuinely likes, not what radio consultants decide they should.
It’s 1992 minus the flannel. Like Nirvana making the underground fashionable, bands like Modest Mouse, Death Cab For Cutie and the Walkmen are getting major airplay, wider press exposure and bookings on bills like the Q101 Block Party, Saturday at the Old Town YMCA.
The second of two nights, the sold-out ticketed show was less a block party and more an imposing outdoor festival, with about 3,500 in attendance.
The five-person band didn’t need to struggle to ignite the crowd. The disjointed songs of lead songwriter-singer Isaac Brock all shared different variations of elastic grooves, almost as if they were rushed versions of the signature shuffles of the Dave Matthews Band and other mellow jam band noodlers.
Brock, who sings with a slight lisp, fueled whatever he sang with anguish. His songs obsess over big issues — the unfairness of God, the beginning of time, when it will end, and the bliss that can occur when living in the moment. He sang them as if they were rants and was often joined by a second vocalist to add another layer to his vocal parts as if to increase the severity of his delivery.
The rage made songs like “3rd Planet” and “Neverending Math Equation” feel urgent, their lyrics almost apocryphal. But the same was felt on the few acoustic songs. Set to a march beat, “Satin in a Coffin” felt terrifying, a death song played to Brock’s backwoods banjo as he sang, “are you dead or are you sleeping? God, I sure hope you are dead.”
The 75-minute, 16-song set had its moments of extended jamming that dramatically loosened the show’s tight-fisted clench and defused the dreamier songs. Modest Mouse may imply meek and ordinary, but, especially this summer, they’re anything but.