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  • Writer's pictureCase Cockrell

I saw Modest Mouse twice in one week. One thing is for sure, Modest Mouse is doing alright in 2021

Updated: Oct 10, 2021

After seeing Modest Mouse open for the now-defamed emo act, Brand New, in 2016, I was left with a sour taste in my mouth. The band’s famously cynical leader, Isaac Brock, failed to make a mark on the Brand New-obsessed audience. With the temperature being in the 100s in the July Texas weather, The Pacific Northwest act was clearly out of their element opening for a band with a far more relevant cult following, at least at the time. For the past couple of weeks, I have drawn my attention to Modest Mouse, as they have come to the Lone Star State once again for a circuit of shows to promote their new album. I decided to try to see a couple of these shows, just to see if the band had truly devolved into a nostalgia act or hopefully, a band that still has the passion to make essential entries into their discography.

In 2021, Modest Mouse reemerged with a new record, Golden Casket. Brock’s last two entries in the band’s discography have proven to be labored spurts of audio that beg for more directions. Some of these songs lack any inspiration at all, with some tracks having Isaac La-La-La-ing and humming along to droning, generic indie rock instrumentation. The band’s recent output has challenged longtime fans to stay loyal, with the act’s live sets being agonizingly dominated by these less-than-desirable new tracks. Despite this, Brock manages to pick up his trusty stringed instruments and conduct his 6-headed orchestra for audiences to rock their faces with old and new tunes alike.

The past couple of weeks have been busy for concerts in Texas. With Austin City Limits crowds and touring acts coming in full force to the Lone Star State, it has taken a lot of debate who to give the time of day to, and the state of Indie Rock has been in question due to the questionable material of Indie Rock Gods like Modest Mouse. Last Saturday afternoon, I wandered into the ACL grounds just to see how Modest Mouse would sound after all this time. Please note, I last saw Modest Mouse perform at the Winstar Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma in 2018, which proved that the band still had tremendous playing and performing capabilities in them, but only new material could tell if they could still concoct the transcendent ever-so-relatable ballads we know and love.

When I stumbled upon the band's early evening ACL set, I found the band to be firing on some sort of cylinder, with Brock nailing every vocal line and shredding his guitar like he was mad at it. The band’s set contained songs new and old, with the mainstream crowd more or less moaning when the band played cult classics like Dramamine and King Rat. The worst part was the packs of people leaving after the band played superhit Float On in the middle of the festival set. It’s become quite obvious, Modest Mouse is doomed to become a nostalgia act that fails to produce new essential content to their discography with every new release. Even on the slow-cooked studio effort Strangers To Ourselves, the band found themselves chomping at the bit for inspiration, and the result was a series of overproduced sounds that not even a diehard disciple of Brock could enjoy.

Since the band has to make their way back to Austin this weekend, Isaac Brock’s Sextet has decided to embark on a mini-tour, a circuit that included my hometown of Dallas, Texas. Letting my curiosity get the best of me, I traveled to the sickeningly corporate Toyota Music Factory to see what Modest Mouse had to offer in terms of a full-length gig. Since drinks inside the venue cost a shockingly condescending $15 for a 24 oz can of brew, I decided to skip the openers and pregame the night at the generous happy hour of Dallas staple, Bar Louie. To prepare me for the 2-hour onslaught I was about to witness, I loaded up on Jameson-Beer boilermakers, and to seal the deal, I also enjoyed the joint’s Bacon Cheeseburger, named the All-Nighter, which contained the likes of Bacon, eggs, and a so-called deluxe patty that made for a mouthwatering addition to the evening. Upon walking into the venue, I was met with posters and logo fixtures of every sponsorship, product placement, and advertisement you could imagine. With drink and mediocre food prices through the roof in this corporate hub of a venue, I decided to steer clear of the concession stand.

When Modest Mouse promptly took the stage at 9:30, I knew we were looking at a solid 90-minute spectacle, hopefully with some oldies sprinkled in over Brock’s new, “Bright” ideas. The first tune came in the form of the new record’s opening track Fuck Your Acid Trip. Brock’s manic wails went into full effect, with the crowd seeming to not even react to the track aside from moderately excited dancing. Modest Mouse followed the new track with an old fan favorite off Moon & Antarctica, A Different City. The fluttering instrumental of the track made the crowd roar, and the band got off to their rightful, yet somewhat slow, start.

The sextet proceeded to tear through their set, delivering hits such as Dashboard, a song penned with The Smiths’ Johnny Marr, a lineup that perhaps could have saved the last two records from watered-down oblivion. The set continued with band debut This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About classic Custom Concern, making the crowd break out into a heartfelt singalong. Brock took the band through a whirlwind of tunes old and new, including Lonesome Crowded West fan-favorite Doin’ The Cockroach, which had the whole crowd fist-pumping and screaming along to the shrieks and pummeling power chords of Brock.

After the band ended the main set with a snoozer track, We’re Lucky off the band’s recent effort, the crowd was left at odds, with the whole crowd chanting for more classics to be played from the band. When the band turned up on stage again, Brock delivered a 7-song encore. The band wasted no time in their last moments on stage for the night, cycling through songs like Dramamine and Lampshades On Fire, both of which made for a fitting end to the band’s incendiary live performance. Just when the crowd thought the band was finished, Brock busted out into the band’s 8-minute epic, Spitting Venom. With the whole band showcasing their abilities all at once, a wave of emotion passed over the crowd, and the band jammed into exhaustion right up until the 11:00 pm curfew, ending on the last note just as the clock ticked into the next hour.

It’s true: Modest Mouse hasn’t put out any great material in quite some time. Truth is, we may never get a body of work on par with The Lonesome Crowded West or Moon & Antarctica ever again from the band. That’s okay though, as Brock has given us a batch of timeless tunes over his career, and asking for even more seems like a stretch as time passes on. Modest Mouse is doing alright, though. The showmanship is still there, and we fans are still here. As Brock is now classified as one of the greatest songwriters of his period who has penned many classic records, we fans expect a lot. This little Texas stint I followed the band on has proven to me that they’re going to be alright, and I’m alright with that.

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