In the modern musical world, artists’ success seems to be measured in how quickly they can crank out new, catchy, pop-earworm singles that you keep singing from day to day until the next one comes along. Entire albums are far too much to swallow for the attention-deficit horde that is the concertgoing crowd, and heaven forbid you haven’t put out anything for several years’ time — you’re just a faded memory, a phrase that still pops up on cobweb-covered Internet searches. It’s therefore refreshing and wonderful to see acts like Modest Mouse, the Washington-based indie rockers who took the mid-2000s by storm, return to the Bay Area with over 7 years having passed since their last album’s release, and play to an absolutely sold-out house at their own debut at The Masonic, the recently-revamped auditorium that has been all of the buzz of San Francisco of late. It’s a testament to the staying power and wildly dedicated fanbase that they possess, and they did not disappoint the hundreds who screamed, cried, and writhed their way through the evening with them, unloading their explosive energy with a live assembly of nearly 10 players making up their ranks.
Before the mesmerizing tour de force that would take up the headlining spot that evening, however, early arrivals were treated to a short but beautiful set by Portland own Mimicking Birds, a sparkling, folky-space four-pieec led by the fragile-voiced Nate Lacy on vocals and acoustic guitars. While not possessed of the same brilliantly manic energy as that of Modest Mouse’s frontman, Isaac Brock, Lacy and his bandmates nonetheless crafted an intimate, enveloping ocean of gorgeous, starlit indie rock, moving with gentle precision and a majesty far exceeding that which their opening slot would lead one to assume of them. The shimmering lights and crowded stage lent themselves well to the set, and the quartet filled the vast space of the Masonic with crescendos and delicate acoustic tunes alike. It was a delightful reminder to all that the time to unwind and savor the beauty of the evening had arrived; it was Friday night, the weight of the working week had been lifted off our shoulders, and the time for reveling had come to us all.
While Mimicking Birds had brought very little gear with them to perform with onstage, its absence was barely noticeable amongst the titanic pile of instruments and amplifiers that littered the stage for Modest Mouse’s set, looking for all the world like the storage room of an instrument junkie. Lest anyone think that their collection was mostly for show, however, the men and women of Modest Mouse cycled from object to object steadily throughout their set, bringing violins, horns, extra percussion, banjos, and more with them from song to song. The orchestration of each piece was full and powerful, whether a bright and brilliant ballad like “The World at Large”, a sinuous stomper like “This Devil’s Workday” or even the raucous back-and-forth explosion of “Night On The Sun”, with the collective swelling and swaying with every note, every measure, and every burst of sound.
It’s difficult to talk about the energy and excitement of Modest Mouse’s stage presence without mentioning its frenetic frontman, and tonight was no exception. Despite a gentle materialization onto the stage and a calm demeanor painted upon his face, the first notes of “King Rat” saw Isaac Brock hurling himself back and forth in his small space, banjo gripped tautly like a man possessed, spitting and snarling at his microphone like a man possessed, an urgency and potency in all of his words and movements. From song to song he morphed back and forth, from a close-eyed, pensive force of concentration into a hell-raising banshee, with every other magnitude of either expression bursting forth at various moments. Paralleling Brock’s fanatical thrasing were the graceful but furious movements of guitarist Jim Fairchild, whose sinewy form bent and twisted around his instrument with every howling note that he cranked out.
As it was truly diehard fans that had come out to see their heroes tonight at the Masonic, Modest Mouse paid in kind with a massive set that sprawled its way across their full discography. Well-known, mainstream hits like “Dashboard” and “Bukowski” were sandwiched between old favorites like “Doin’ the Cockroach” and “Heart Cooks Brain”. New songs like “Lampshades” and “Sugar Boats”, while not backed by the same jovial sing-along as the classics within the set, were well-received and still celebrated with joy and cheering. After a long pause that followed “The Good Times are Killing Me”, the group returned for a dynamite, five-song encore, which included their smash hit “Float On” and the celebrated classics “Talking Shit About A Pretty Sunset” and “Shit Luck” to close out the night.
If the frenzied, ecstatic cheering of the massive crowd was any indication, Modest Mouse have permanently established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the modern world of music. A direct opposition to the laptop-powered, single-driven solo performers that seem to be all the rage these days, this eclectic company of musicians is remembered and driven by dozens of pieces packed within well-lauded albums, and after almost two hours of music, their onlookers were screaming for more. Hopefully, Modest Mouse will return soon, with even more new music within their repertoire, and they will doubtlessly be celebrated with just as much fervor as tonight.
- King Rat
- Black Cadillacs
- Dark Center of the Universe
- Lampshades On Fire
- This Devil’s Workday
- Fire It Up
- Night on the Sun
- Sugar Boats
- Doin’ the Cockroach
- Baby Blue Sedan
- The World at Large
- Heart Cooks Brain
- Tiny Cities Made of Ashes
- The Good Times Are Killing Me
- Gravity Rides Everything
- Shit In Your Cut
- Float On
- Talking Shit About a Pretty Sunset
- Shit Luck
Additional photos from the show below. All photos © 2014 Jonathan Pirro