“I can really feel the Tylenol P.M. kicking in,” Isaac Brock, the front man for Modest Mouse, announced midway through his band’s set. The crowd, which filled College Street Music Hall last Wednesday night, gave a hushed laugh that reverberated in the warmth of the venue. Brock’s murmured jokes, including one about getting a Yale tattoo, provided continuous entertainment throughout the concert. These moments exposed the bandleader’s quirkiness and created an unforeseen intimacy that was the highlight of the entire performance.
As an observer familiar with the band’s repertoire, I expected to be jumping up and down, shouting lyrics that were drowned out by those of people around me. The band’s set list did not match those expectations, but the concert revealed a deeper, lesser-known side of Modest Mouse that resonated with many different periods of their music.
The band took to the stage with “The Whale Song,” immersing themselves in a six-minute jam session of layered harmonies and guitar buildups. This song, which they’ve only played at 10 out of numerous concerts over the years, enveloped the venue in a mellow melody. From the get-go, it appeared as if there were no intention to crowd-please. It was unpredicted. It was exactly Modest Mouse.
Only four teenagers, who had passed around a joint earlier, danced at the beginning of the concert. They knocked into the dads behind me, who gruffly stared back, while others were confusedly trying to place the song. Though the sound within the venue was incredible, dynamic and loud (quite loud), not many fans knew the lyrics for the first three or four tracks.
A new vivacity coursed through the crowd when “Lampshades on Fire” and “Dashboard” debuted. Energy amplified with the fast tempo of the rhythmic percussion, and many people in the balcony seating area stood to dance. The band gave a solid performance the entire time, bringing out a trumpet and featuring the violinist at several points. If there was one thing Modest Mouse did not lack, it was instruments: The stage had various musical gadgets — and eight band members to play them all.
Brock’s lispy vocals confidently carried the melody, but I awaited something bouncier, something to raise the crowd to its feet. People seated in the balcony made me little at ease — I am personally too anxious to sit at concerts. Gazing around during a guitar solo, I saw people at the bar watching a live recording of the concert on the overhead TV screens.
When Modest Mouse reached their encore, I looked forward to four of my favorite, and more popular, songs that hadn’t debuted. One of these dreams came true when they strummed into “Ocean Breathes Salty,” but Modest Mouse surprised the audience again with a reach into their archives for “Shit Luck” and “Gravity Rides Everything.” The band continued to belt their eccentric lyrics 15 minutes over the cut-off time, leaving the crowd with pleas for more. No, “Float On” was not played. Neither was “World at Large.” Both of these are Spotify’s most popular Modest Mouse songs.
After 23 songs, an hour and 50 minutes, many in attendance lingered, waiting for more. I couldn’t help but want the band to play something else as well.
They were entertaining. Their songs were melodic, beautifully played and sometimes sardonic and funny. Every moment that Brock spoke was memorable. Yet, I’m still slightly bitter that the band has the license to play whatever they fucking please. Thinking back on the rare songs the band did play, they were a real treat for the diehard fans, for the old dads behind me singing softly and the drunk college kids swaying to the angst-ridden rhythms.
I understand that “Float On” is overplayed, but I believe it would have been the perfect climax to the buildup, rather than the semi-flat exit. To be honest, Modest Mouse didn’t provide the orgasm.
Call it good news for people who love bad news.