Modest Mouse fans have had to wait eight years for the band’s new record. Perhaps not as long as the wait endured by Portishead, Kate Bush or My Bloody Valentine fans, but not insignificant. Especially if you think, as I do, that 2000’s The Moon & Antarctica is one of the best albums of the last 20 years.
That’s not to say Modest Mouse have been idle. They’ve toured extensively, had children, written film scores, lost and gained band mates, jilted four producers – until finally, Stranger to Ourselves emerged earlier this year.
Tonight’s live show, presenting the 2015 version of Modest Mouse, is the product of all those years. This isn’t the band of fiery, sometimes shambolic young men who emerged from Washington in the early 90s, but a mature and professional group of musicians.
The first date on their UK tour, Modest Mouse’s elaborate live show features eight core band members – playing a host of instruments, including two drum kits, percussion, keyboards, violin, brass, double bass and banjo. All of these combine to create a vibrant sound; although I get the impression that some of the subtleties of this performance, for example the work of the third percussionist, are lost in the fray.
Front man Isaac Brock, as unpredictable and prickly as ever, ensures that proceedings never feel too comfortable. He doesn’t quite produce a knife on stage tonight (as is reported to have happened at a 2007 gig) but he is certainly willing to deal with some particularly annoying hecklers. As ever his voice snarls and his lyrics offer concise insight into the human condition; as he admits during ‘Dark Center of the Universe’, “it took a lot of work to be the ass I am”.
Modest Mouse balance their set well, featuring songs from across the band’s back catalogue. From the Punk Rock ‘Doin’ the Cockroach’ (from second album The Lonesome Crowded West) to ‘Lampshades on Fire’, the radio-friendly first single from their most recent album, tonight’s track list traces their development from angry Punk upstarts to critical success, and their eventual commercial breakthrough moment with ‘Float On’ in early 2004.
‘Dramamine’, the first song from the first album, is a particular highlight. Lyrics and guitar lines loop round like an anxious mind replaying painful moments – conversations you wish had gone better, things you wish you hadn’t done. As the opening guitar chords ring out my friend turns to me and whispers, “I’ve got goosebumps”.
Modest Mouse’s new material might not hit the heights of their best work, but with such a rich back catalogue to draw upon that doesn’t matter. It’s refreshing to see a wonderful a band in full stride, totally at ease.
Tonight’s brass inspired final track, ‘Spitting Venom’, ends the gig on a fittingly happy, uplifting note. I wonder what the next eight years will bring for Modest Mouse.
For more on Modest Mouse, visit http://modestmouse.com/
For further listings from the Institute, visit http://theinstitutebirmingham.com/listings/