Nobody saw that one coming. There was no way Isaac Brock’s deep, philosophic lyrics — couched in his own, uniquely cryptic wordplay — was going to resonate with a public that has an insatiable appetite for all things celebrity related. And, certainly, though oddly catchy, Modest Mouse’s quirky, off-kilter sound would never catch on with those same people, gleefully being spoon fed the lowest-common-denominator, overly processed pop the record industry could produce.
Even after blowing away critics with the space-rock epic The Moon And Antarctica, there was no way Modest Mouse was ever going to become a household name. And then came “Float On.” Brimming with positivity and championing an “everything’s going to be all right” aesthetic, “Float On” marched onto the charts with a funky bass stomp, otherworldly guitars and Isaac Brock’s insistent bellow.
With the chart success of the band’s latest album, We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank, it appears Modest Mouse isn’t about to give up its newfound popularity. On Nov. 10, the Issaquah, Washington’s favorite sons invaded Madison, Wis., and threw down, giving a radiant performance at the city’s Orpheum Theatre.
Running through a set that mostly featured songs from We Were Dead … and Good News for People Who Love Bad News. Backed by a rampaging double drum kit attack, courtesy of Jeremiah Green and Joe Plummer, and bolstered by the six-string engravings of ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, Modest Mouse was captivating. There was little in the way of stage banter, with the band simply plowing through song after song with barely harnessed vigor.
The lead single for We Were Dead …, “Dashboard,” grew in scope, becoming more expansive and propulsive in a live setting, with Modest Mouse’s post-punk dance identity coming to the fore. And an epic encore left everybody’s mouth gaping. What really stood out was how professional Modest Mouse, producing clear sonic portraits that, while still rowdy and wild, had a clarity of vision and impossible-to-ignore grooves.
Opening bands Man Man and Love As Laughter were at complete opposites, with Love putting on a cough-medicine induced slumber and Man Man erupting with impossible energy. Describing Man Man is a futile exercise. Calling their act a “carnival” would come close, with jazzy horns, rollicking piano, percussive mayhem and kazoos creating an eastern European-influenced, klezmer/punk dynamo. Get to know Man Man.