The lesson of today is: don’t always assume that the first band on stage will be no good: make sure you don’t miss the support band, or at the very least, do your homework and check them out first; that’s what the internet is there for.
Hippo Campus from St Paul (Minneapolis) are tonight’s support and are young, full of energy and they have fantastic songs. They make a sound like Born Ruffians and Bombay Bicycle Club, but channelled through much younger eyes, ears and hearts. Hippo Campus are also fortunate to have the world’s best drummer, who uses his kit like an instrument not just a loud thing to hit hard. Their arrangements are clever, jagged and funky, but rock ferociously. They are intelligent, musical and wickedly talented. Utterly contemporary and currently my favourite band; enough said.
In stark contrast is second support Elle King who is old school country rock and sounds like she smokes 800 cigarettes a day – think Suzi Quatro, Janice Joplin and Meatloaf. She belts out every song with absolute conviction and the crowd loves her. Her sound is not my cup of tea and her voice remains the same gravelly rasp pretty much through each song and starts to grate on me by the middle of the set. As usual I stand alone against a tide of an artist’s admirers who whoop and cheer for more.
Before Modest Mouse take the stage there is a hive of activity as roadies and guitar technicians set up the mountain of equipment on stage: on risers are three sets of percussion, one being Jeremiah Green’s drum kit. In front of that is a wall of different guitar amplifiers; two keyboards; guitars; bass; double bass; two violins; cornets and some kind of baritone horn. On the stage itself is a mass of effects pedals and guitar leads snaking everywhere. Isaac Brock has two banks of pedalboards beneath his microphone stand that would put Blackpool to shame. When the lights finally go down and the ominous sound of rain and thunder fills the venue, the stage floor looks like a spaceship there are so many blinking LEDs.
What follows is a masterclass in how to be the best underground indie band in the world. The Modest Mouse back catalogue is plundered as well as a good helping of new album ‘Strangers To Ourselves’. Everything sounds completely in place for the 90 plus minutes they fill the venue with their thunderous sound. I have to admit to not always being able to pick out all the sounds that are played in front of me, but often with a group of seven and eight musicians on stage at a time, all playing complex polyrhythms and syncopated beats, you have to have a good ear to cram every sound inside your brain (mine is plagued by tinnitus). I could see percussionist Ben Massarella whacking hell out of two lumps of wood and a plastic bin, but couldn’t quite hear it. Also Lisa Molinaro’s violin is often lost on me, which is a great shame because when I do catch it, it sounds beautiful.
Isaac Brock is a real surprise to me live, as I somehow had imagined a quieter more introverted character. No! He is like Taz the Tasmanian Devil. His vocal and guitar work is spiky and powerful. He moves as if trying to tear ghosts from his body, jerking and twitching, and constantly stamping on his array of pedals… and every song is delivered with an unshakeable confidence. In between songs he trades polite insults with the crowd in his soft American accent, lisping softly as he reduces hecklers to dust, and speaks of his twenty three years working and playing in this band: for a man who reaches forty during this tour he is remarkably well preserved and has endless reserves of energy.
I had read of some Modest Mouse performances that lacked focus and conviction but not tonight; tonight every sound and every note played is meant. The musicians on stage are delivering on every level and it is bewildering to try and keep up. I have to admit that at times I wonder if every instrument and gadget on stage is entirely necessary, as many times throughout the show the musicians swap and exchange instruments – it does highlight how extremely talented the latest incarnation of Modest Mouse is, but really, did they need to bring everything? Hardly surprising there are so many tour buses parked on Milk Street.
Somehow the mass of other instrumentation actually is rendered superficial when you realise that the power of all the melody and the thrust of all the lyrical heart in the band emanates from one man: Isaac Brock. He really could stand alone and still make the hairs stand up on the back of my neck with his open wound vocal style and vicious guitar sound.
The Modest Mouse tour rolls through the UK this week and is a must see.
Shit In Your Cut
Tiny Cities Made of Ashes
Lampshades On Fire
Dark Center of the Universe
This Devil’s Workday
Doin’ the Cockroach
The Best Room
Out of Gas
Pups to Dust
The Tortoise and the Tourist
Parting of the Sensory
The Good Times Are Killing Me
The Ground Walks, With Time in a Box
Review: Alan Neilson
Photographs: Steve Kilmister