Modest Mouse, the Orpheum, April 27, 2007
Go back in time about a decade to Modest Mouse’s second full-length, Lonesome Crowded West, a strangely catchy (emphasis on “strangely”) album that won the devotion of the indie-rock underground’s geeky denizens. Grab a couple of those geeks and show them the April 7 Billboard 200 with Modest Mouse’s We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (Epic) sitting at the top. “Bullshit,” they might say. “They must’ve sold out.”
Well, not exactly. Sure, the production on the three major-label albums the band have released since LCW is sleeker, and main Mouse Isaac Brock’s melodic sense is more refined. But despite their major-label status, Modest Mouse are still very much an “indie”-sounding band, with Brock’s signature noisy tremolo-warped guitar and shouty vocal stylings intact. It was the fluky success of an uncharacteristically radio-ready song from 2004’s Good News for People Who Love Bad News called “Float On” that catapulted the band into the mainstream and led to We Were Dead’s surprise #1 debut — and a sold-out Orpheum Theatre show last Friday.
At the Orpheum, the band seemed out of place, still uncomfortable with their status as rock stars and unable to live up to the challenge of rocking a 3000-capacity theater. Brock’s vocals — when you could hear them over the shapeless din of distortion, excess percussion (is that second drummer really necessary?), and persistent feedback — were shaky at best and embarrassingly out of tune at worst. Long breaks between songs killed any potential momentum, and the only time Brock seemed to be enjoying himself was toward the end, during “Doin’ the Cockroach” (one of just a handful of pre-Good News songs), when he screamed into his guitar pick-ups: “Oh, my mind is all made up/So I’ll have to sleep in it.” It was an intense, chaotic moment, one that probably would’ve felt sublime at, say, the Middle East downstairs. Unfortunately, like the rest of the set, it didn’t translate to the big stage.
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