It’s been seven years and counting since there has been a new Modest Mouse album, and a scant five album releases in total from the breakout indie rock act that has been together for over 20 years. Yet none of that stops Modest Mouse from selling out the recently-reopened and gorgeous Masonic last Friday night and completely warranting it.
Fronted by Isaac Brock and a band that grew from six to nine members depending on the song, Brock yelped and shook his guitar with energetic zeal over the course of 90 minutes of songs that dug all the way back to a deep cut from their first album. The audience in attendance was eager and responsive, ready to rock out to the many hits performed, with a deep appreciation of those older songs.
Opener Mimicking Birds got things started nicely. The Portland, Oregon band were a fitting opener that brought an ambient yet rustic sound, creating sonic landscapes that had a tendency to use some unique techniques. Some were done by the guitarist scraping high on the fretboard and channeling some other-worldly Sigur Rós-like sounds, others involved the drummer up in the front of the stage scraping his drum stick along a cymbal as he spun it around. The audience was still filing in as Mimicking Birds closed up but those in attendance were responsive and engaged by the different sound they brought.
When Modest Mouse arrived the Masonic was packed and the crowd was ready. They opened with “King Rat,” one of their newest songs, and followed that by immediately digging into the wealth of solid deeper cuts from their more recent albums, “Black Cadillacs,” “Dark Center of the Universe” and “Dashboard.” There were some guitar problems before that last song could get going and Brock kept the audience entertained by telling a joke. After that was solved it was obvious that no interferences of the night were going to hold the band back from keeping engaged with the songs.
The setlist spanned their entire catalog – multiple times Brock would bring the band together and have a talk and they would quickly change instruments before rolling into the next one, giving the impression that some songs were decided on the fly. The band’s lineup has changed over the years – outside of Brock, only drummer Jeremiah Green is one of the original founding members, but the new and old members of the band brings brilliant performances that match Brock in sheer talent, often times switching instruments and doing multiple duties per song and sounding like pros who have been doing this for years probably because they have.
It all comes down to those songs and Modest Mouse has plenty of ‘em. The band pulled an equal amount of songs from all of their excellent albums, however a good extra chunk came from their smash record Good News For People Who Love Bad News. The sound in the venue was perfect and the new Masonic was a fitting venue, large enough to house the huge crowd but intimate enough that you could be on any side of the stage at any tier and still have a great view and connection with the band. Even in the back of the crowd audience members were rocking out like they were in the front row. When their semi-hit “Doin’ The Cockroach” made an appearance midway through the audience was very receptive, making it clear that they were ready for whatever Modest Mouse had in store and an appreciation for some of their weirder songs.
The band takes many of their well-known songs and expands on them in the way many bands try to in the live setting but few pull off. “The World At Large” illustrated this perfectly: The band took the song and stripped it to the essentials of that main hook and when it got to the final line near the end it exploded into a lush, full sound with new instruments. More symphonic than the recorded version yet retaining the familiarity of the original, how you want your bands to give you that full experience live not just by replicating a track perfectly from the album but by also experimenting on what is already familiar from repeat listens. There were minor feedback issues during a couple songs but with a frontman like Brock whose vocal stylings tend to go from his fluctuating creaky voice to a yelp at any notice, it’s forgiven. Regardless, if the band releases a new album anytime soon or not it seems San Francisco would welcome them back anytime for another energetic show from one of rock’s most reliable bands.