I hadn’t seen a Modest Mouse show since the 2010 Twilight gig at Pioneer Park. The scene at that show was so overwhelming that I missed most of it, sitting outside of the fence I felt too old and responsible to climb. Before that, I had watched Isaac Brock a handful of times, and he had never failed to wake something up inside me with his intensely compelling energy and undeniable stage presence. I was excited for the show at The Complex, hoping to hear some older, deeper tracks that aren’t from an unfamiliar new album. And, once again, within moments of being inside the way-too-hot venue, I was wide awake, hanging on Brock’s every move.
The crowd—which was as diverse as one might expect to see at a show headlining a band that has been playing for over two decades—was large and primed by the opening act, Morning Teleportation, a band that, at times, sounded heavily influenced by Modest Mouse. Brock produced their debut album, Expanding Anyway, in 2011. Teleportation’s style and in particular Tiger Merritt’s vocals fit very well into an evening that would soon be filled with Brock’s signature reflectiveness mixed with sudden violent outbursts in front of a microphone. The majority of those packed into The Complex enjoyed the opener, who played a great short set. I had a lot of fun listening to them, and I wasn’t the only one.
Modest Mouse began their deep, 20-song venture with a classic, blowing the joint’s doors off with a perfect rendition of “3rd Planet,” one of my favorite songs from The Moon & Antarctica. I have been a huge fan of the band since the very first time I heard that album, and that is track No. 2. The band jumped on the stage, loud and fast, and didn’t take their foot off the pedal for 20 minutes, digging up songs from a few of their first albums and making older fans like myself reminisce about the days when those songs were new. Brock gave us “Never Ending Math Equation” from the odds and ends album Building Nothing Out of Something and finished the initial tirade with “Dramamine,” one of my personal favorites from the band’s first studio album, way back when they were with Up Records.
I was reminded of something very important when the band took that first breather of the show. I remembered just how talented, unique and unlike anyone else Modest Mouse actually is. Brock switched to a banjo and his bandmates reached for a plethora of other musical options as well, which they would continue to do every couple of songs for the next hour. Modest Mouse has always brought compound components to their music, going further than what most people would expect from a rock band. So, beginning with a crowd pleasing “Bukowski,” Modest Mouse continuously impressed and mesmerized, adding and switching between various strings, horns and keys. I shouldn’t have needed a reminder of the band’s gravity though. I watched an entourage tuning all of the pieces of equipment during sound check, intrigued over the possibilities of what songs the group might play.
The set list was outstanding, from start to finish. There was a mix of really old tracks from their latest release, 2015’s Strangers to Ourselves. Every time I have seen Modest Mouse, I hold my breath, hoping they will play “Lives,” my favorite bit of music from them. I have never seen them play that song, and they didn’t at The Complex either, but that just gives me something to look forward to the next time. I did get to hear “Trailer Trash” and “Custom Concern” from The Lonesome Crowded West and Long Drive, which were almost as high on my wish list, the latter song serving as a moment to slow down and appreciate all that I was watching. It was just enough of an instant to cool off, catching a break from bodies mooshing up against me, eagerly trying to get closer to the stage. But the moment was only brief — the band played the song into something I had never heard before, meshing it with another track that it was loud, bright and full of everything about the band I fell in love with so many years ago. Modest Mouse finished the song and left the stage while the aforementioned entourage retuned a bunch of stuff. We all knew there was going to be an encore, the lights remained off, and nobody was putting instruments away, we just didn’t know what kind of encore it was going to be. It turned out to be a great one.
Modest Mouse played a five-song, half-hour reprise, with everyone cheering louder and louder each time it was understood that the band wasn’t finished. Brock delivered a blistering first three songs with “Parting of the Sensory,” “Tiny City Made of Ashes” and “Dark Center of the Universe.” Once more, the band calmed things down after having pummeled the audience so relentlessly. The final two songs of the night were from Good News for People Who Love Bad News. They began with “Blame It on the Tetons” and finished the night with “The Good Times Are Killing Me.”
As usual, I was floored by what Modest Mouse brought to a live performance: richly layered sounds, Brock’s penetrating delivery and a crowd that is more than appreciative of all of those nuances. I witnessed song recognition and a love for even the older albums from the youngest of attendees all the way up the age train to us cranky old-timers. A band like Modest Mouse transcends generations, and I feel the band will be relevant when my kids are old enough to explore my music collection. The band has been around since I was in high school — who knows? Maybe I’ll get to take my kids with me to a Modest Mouse show, and maybe they’ll play “Lives.” As always, I will be holding my breath, and it will be worth it.