Line up outside a Modest Mouse show and you’re bound to hear the classic hipster debate of which fan discovered the band first, “before they were cool.” However futile the argument, the tone felt appropriate in Spokane on May 23 as the veteran indie band formally launched its summer tour to a rowdy and ravenous audience.
To grasp Modest Mouse’s history and reach, you need only inventory the audience—from teenagers to Baby Boomers—all mingling together as the crowd packed tighter. The band’s latest release, 2015’s Strangers to Ourselves, came eight years after their last record, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, and is the first without bassist Eric Judy. Only two of the founding members, vocalist and guitarist Isaac Brock and drummer Jeremiah Green, remain from the group’s founding in 1993.
After such a long hiatus, fans readily embraced Strangers to Ourselves as a worthy addition to the Modest Mouse canon, regardless of reviews, which were mixed and called it an uneven effort. Songs like “The Ground Walks, with Time in a Box” and “Pups to Dust” seemed at home in the band’s impressive catalogue, while others like “Pistol” felt more contrived than previous efforts. “Lampshades on Fire,” the memorable, radio-friendly single, continued to straddle Modest Mouse’s pop sensibilities.
Before the lights lowered, South American palo santo wood slowly burned behind the light board to clear any bad vibes and energies from the venue. The rising haze and fumes that set over the crowd showed that incense wasn’t the only thing burning in Washington State. Anticipation built and the band took their place, beginning with “Grey Ice Water,” a melancholy, unusual pick for an opening number.
As the first show in a tour, there are bound to be kinks. Early on, Brock stopped to acknowledge what was off by saying, “Because I respect you all, I’m gonna tune up.” The entire group took a moment before the next song to readjust amp settings, switch out mics and re-tune other instruments. Feedback persisted before they hit their groove and let loose around the third song, “The Tortoise and the Tourist.”
Either the Knitting Factory audience didn’t notice the technical difficulties or they didn’t care. Coming together like a living organism, the crowd threw energy back to the band, moving together and cheering and singing to every song. The mosh pit surged with crowdsurfer after crowdsurfer, as the band wove together a selection of mainstream breakthroughs (“Dashboard” and “Lampshades on Fire”) while expertly mixing in deeper cuts (“Dramamine” and “Missed the Boat”).
Modest Mouse performed seven songs off Strangers, including unexpected choices like the messy, energetic “Sugar Boats” and the dreamy sounds of “Ansel.” Noticeably, the cheers and singing were almost as loud for the new material as for the old favorites. Room was also left for a little spontaneity, which included “Trailer Trash” from The Lonesome Crowded West and later Building Nothing Out of Something‘s “Sleepwalking” in the encore, both a treat for longtime fans.
The show closed with the raw energy of “Shit Luck,” an immersive wall of sound that left the crowd chanting “Modest Mouse” at the top of their lungs with hopes for a second encore—that is, until the house lights finally came up.
Despite technical complications and a sprawling, eclectic catalogue of music to choose from, the band showed no signs of slowing down after 20 years and still managed to satisfy their consistently loyal Northwest base.
1. Grey Ice Water
2. Sugar Boats
3. The Tortoise and The Tourist
5. Pups to Dust
6. This Devil’s Workday
9. Trailer Trash
10. Lampshades on Fire
11. Tiny Cities Made of Ashes
12. Interlude (Milo)
13. Shit in Your Cut
14. Missed the Boat
15. Be Brave
16. The View
17. Cowboy Dan
21. Shit Luck