Modest Mouse

Modest Mouse


Tonight’s Modest Mouse show at The Ritz has effectively been delayed by two years. All of us who were due to attend their Summer 2013 show at the Academy had our tickets refunded, with the band explaining at the time that, rather than tour, they wanted to focus instead on making a follow-up to We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. Said record featured Manchester’s own Johnny Marr, who was a full-time recording and touring member of the band for that album and subsequent tour, a tour that I somehow managed to miss. Where was I? What was more important? I don’t remember, but it all adds up to an eleven-year gap between tonight and the last time I saw Modest Mouse live: a joint-headlining show with Bright Eyes at the Academy, with support from Rilo Kiley. That was three American bands giving us bang for our buck.

I have equally high expectations of tonight, not least because Modest Mouse has gifted us a couple of excellent LPs since then. By no means prolific with its recorded output, the band prioritises quality over quantity, and it’s true that I don’t tend to find myself reaching for the skip button when listening to a Modest Mouse album. I realise on my way to The Ritz that, unusually for me, I don’t have too many strong feelings about which songs I’d like to hear played. I put this mindset down to the consistency of the band’s songwriting. So many of the songs are so damned good. I would particularly love to hear ‘Bankrupt on Selling’, though, although I don’t think it’s a song the band plays often. Maybe tonight!

There’s a short delay in the band taking to the stage, but as a thunderstorm soundtrack is pumped into the packed crowd, I’m pleased to see as many as eight musicians appear from the dark bowels of backstage. Happily, founding member Jeremiah Green is amongst them as one of the two drummers. Green has been my favourite drummer since I first heard his creative rhythms on The Lonesome Crowded West. He seems to play in an urgent yet relaxed way as he lays down the backbone for a groove. I think lyricist, singer and guitarist Isaac Brock, dressed in dark clothes and a black beanie like a cat burglar, likes to be just one of the gang on stage, standing as he does on the right rather than assuming a frontman position in the centre.

Touring in support of this year’s Strangers to Ourselves, the band starts with the record’s closing song, the keys-led ‘Of Course We Know’. It’s a laid-back start to the show, but ‘Tiny Cities Made of Ashes’ – which, incidentally, inspired the title of a Sun Kil Moon album that consists exclusively of Modest Mouse covers – raises the tempo considerably. Signed to a major label since the start of the millennium, the band has nevertheless kept its alternative edge throughout, highlighted tonight by songs like recent single ‘Lampshades on Fire’, reminiscent of Talking Heads, and the biting ‘Ocean Breathes Salty’. Brock barks out the latter’s closing couplet: “You wasted life. Why wouldn’t you waste the afterlife?”

Modest Mouse

Modest Mouse

The choppy guitars of ‘Dashboard’ contrast with the arrangement used for ‘This Devil’s Workday’, which features strings, a tuba, two trumpets, and Brock on banjo, an instrument he keeps in his hands for the existentialist ‘Bukowski’. The crowd reception given to ‘Float On’ proves the affection many present still hold for the band’s breakthrough hit single. The sound tonight has been pretty muddy, but the song’s guitar hook fills the room with bursts of clarity.

Singing along and enjoying the set, the encore break comes around earlier than I expected, but upon the band’s return – Brock now with slicked-back hair, as best I can tell from where I’m stood – the best sing-along opportunity of the night presents itself in the form of the ballad ‘The World at Large’. As ‘Fire It Up’ begins, I wonder whether Marr is about to make a guest appearance on a song that I think he co-wrote, but alas it is not to be.

‘Sugar Boats’, one of about half a dozen songs played from Strangers, proves to be our final song of the night, and the musicians humbly leave the stage, presumably to splash some more water and cool off. I have a feeling that seeing Modest Mouse live is not necessarily the best way that someone unfamiliar with the band would be converted into a fan, but the smiling faces I see and the glowing praise I hear on my way out, not to mention the fact that this gig sold out many weeks ago, provide very real proof of the band’s enduring appeal in the UK more than 20 years into its career. From Brock’s point of view, that’s not bad at all for a man whose perception it is, as he explained in a Pitchfork documentary, that for European audiences he is some guy with an American accent and a lisp yelling at us, sometimes about very American stuff.

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Steve Jones

Apart from about five years in total, I've always lived in Manchester. Shame about the weather and lack of beach, but I do like it here. My all-time favourite gig would have to be The National at the Academy in about 2010, although I did get Matt Berninger's mic cable wrapped around my neck (that was a close one). My guilty pleasures include the music of Bruce Springsteen, and I also felt a bit bad for feeling such joy at seeing Counting Crows live in the early 2000s. I recommend Lifter Puller, a rather obnoxious and unpleasant-sounding band that I can't seem to get enough of, even though they are long disbanded. Amongst my Silent Radio gigs, I was blown away by John Murry. I'll let you know if anything tops that one.