Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Modest Mouse concert review

Photo by Kelly Swift
A version of my review originally ran in the OC Register

Towards the end of an engaging 100-minute show at the Grove of Anaheim on Saturday, Modest Mouse singer/guitarist Isaac Brock asked the crowd, “Did you all stick around to get your money’s worth?” Judging by the wildly enthusiastic audience reaction throughout the band’s concert, including some pogoing and crowd surfing, I’d say the answer was affirmative.

Not everything ran smoothly. Although the venue was packed (supposedly “sold out” actually, but ample room was available in the back tiers) and the temperature still hot outside (even Grove staffers fanned themselves to stay cool), the air conditioning was apparently turned off.

Despite a nearly hour-long set changeover (the natives were definitely restless), Modest Mouse’s sound mix was admirable at best. Whenever Brock moved into soft-spoken vocal mode, he was often buried in the sonic cacophony created by the lead guitarist, bassist, keyboardist and two drummers.

Early on, Brock witnessed a fan bleeding from the mouth and took a few minutes to see if he was alright. A fight in the front pit area also had to be diffused by security. The Modest Mouse leader seemed to be in good health, kept the nonsensical rambling to a minimum and was in decent yelping voice onstage.

But Brock apparently was no mood to placate casual Modest Mouse followers who anticipated hearing such latter-day modern rock radio hits as “Float On,” “Ocean Breathes Salty,” “Dashboard” and “Missed the Boat.” The band might be getting major attention right now for its violent, animated "King Rat" music video that was started by late actor Heath Ledger, but it wasn't in the Saturday set either.

Before the Grove show, I spotted a handful of people wearing Smiths t-shirts. Unfortunately, that band’s former guitarist, Johnny Marr - who joined Modest Mouse for the recording of 2007’s gold-selling No. 1 album We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank and subsequent tours - was nowhere to be found in O.C. Marr recently hooked up with British indie rock upstarts The Cribs and is likely immersed in their music for the time being.

Sirens sounded and searchlights focused on the crowd as Modest Mouse launched the 18-song set with an intense, fast-paced “Invisible.” Brock was all spastic moves and sang with a bug-eyed expression as the band packed quite a wallop.

Appropriately, Brock lighted a cigarette before starting the chant-worthy “Fire it Up,” percolating with soothing programming and elastic guitar sounds. A highly danceable, Talking Heads-styled “The View” easily lived up to its “I feel pretty blissfully” lyric and “We are fearless” refrain. Fans went especially crazy for the stomping rocker “Black Cadillacs.”

Selections from the new odds ‘n’ sods EP No One’s First and You’re Next also went over well: "The Whale Song," breezy “Autumn Beds” - where Brock played banjo and sang tenderly before transitioning into crazed vocals - and the poppy “Satellite Skin.”

Diehard enthusiasts were treated to several fine older tunes, notably the tempered “Baby Blue Sedan,” from 2000 compilation Building Something Out of Nothing, “Breakthrough” and the beautiful, fiddle-infused “Talking S--- About a Pretty Sunset,” off 1996’s This is a Long Drive For Someone With Nothing to Think About. Finally, the band closed its encore section with the glorious chamber pop strains of “The Good Times Are Killing Me,” which had a campfire sing along vibe.

San Diego garage rock band The Night Marchers blazed a fiery trail during its high energy 40-minute opening set comprised of tunes from last year’s See You in Magic release. Led by one time Rocket From the Crypt and Drive Like Jehu mastermind John Reis AKA Speedo, the quartet fared best during surf punk-leaning “In Dead Sleep (I Snore ZZZZ)” and “Total Bloodbath,” which recalled a less melodic Hives. Speedo was totally a happy go lucky showman, telling the “Anaslime” audience that they should “feel naked because you’re clothed in the sounds of rock ‘n’ roll.” He even did a bit of The Trashmen’s ‘60s tune “The Bird’s The Word.”

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