Photo Credit: Michael Maly of mmalyphotography
Modest Mouse is an elusive figure in the modern music sphere. With sparse, sporadic album releases over the last decade and a half, the band's trajectory has had a lot of question marks and head-scratchers. While the band's previous two studio releases have yet to be acclaimed as being even close to the quality of their most revered works, frontman Isaac Brock has, without a doubt, been attempting to focus a lot of energy on the band's big band-oriented live shows. These usually feature members that can be up to eight musicians on stage for the band's performance. This effort included tours, festival appearances, and many stand-alone track releases before their recent and most debated full-length release to date, The Golden Casket. Brock came with an abbreviated lineup but a vast, ulterior mission this time.
All debates aside, Modest Mouse are sonic pioneers of sorts. Their history with the Pacific Northwest and independent music scene is undeniably cemented as one of the mainstream's most successful. Nonetheless, Brock's manic wails and thundering hooks still manage to captivate an audience that has expanded to larger and larger demographics throughout their time as a band. The stakes were high, with the Monday-night Austin crowd filling the venue for a sold-out show. This time, Brock and company had a plan for each audience on this tour: to rock their faces with his magnum opus of some of the most beloved music the band has ever recorded.
When Modest Mouse announced they would be not only playing their essential 1997 indie rock opus, The Lonesome Crowded West, in its entirety for this tour, I was intrigued to see Brock would only be bringing a mere 4-piece act to the stages when delivering this essential album in the band's discography. Brock needed a tight and concise band of misfits for this expedition, and the result did not disappoint.
To open the night, Isaac Brock's Glacial Pace label signee, Mattress, performed a variety of solo shanties that sounded like The Talking Heads if they took too much acid and dressed their Sunday best at every gig they played. Mattress sole member Rex Marshall danced around the stage while his wonky dance moves kept the light worker busy before Marshall would step to his pedal board and switch the track over for the set's following songs. Brock even rhetorically asked the audience if they enjoyed the act during the headliner's set. (Of course we did!)
The legacy of The Lonesome Crowded West is undeniable. There are other indie rock classics, but only one Lonesome Crowded West. Brock's untamed narratives of mass gentrification, excessive industrialization, and bloated consumerism have served as a cautionary tale that's lasted all of 25 years. When Modest Mouse took the stage promptly at 9 pm at the Moody Theater on Monday night, Brock greeted the crowd before launching into the long-awaited seminal album performance.
The band began their evening onslaught with the abrasive Teeth Like God's Shoeshine. I had extremely high hopes for this one, as the vocal performance is likely one of Brock's most aggressive. Nonetheless, Brock's searing guitar riffs and not-so-starry-eyed bandleader status made for a worthy start to the evening, and the jams Brock led the band through on this track was the icing on the cake to the beginning of the prepared onslaught. Live favorite Cowboy Dan made for an anthemic audience experience as it always seems to be one of the tracks that fans try to request with every Modest Mouse live occasion. Including one of which were Brock carried out such a request for a random casino gig I happened to see in 2018, where a fan got his encore wish, much to his audible delight.
Photo Credit: Michael Maly of mmalyphotography
One of the more bombastic cuts of the evening came in the form of Doin' The Cockroach, which sent the audience into a strobe light-infested singalong with possibly the most energetic song of the record. Jesus Christ Was an Only Child also served the crowd well as the audience quickly became engaged in the boom-clap-like cadence as Brock chipped his way through the song on a janky acoustic guitar. Trailer Trash, Bankrupt on Selling, and the 11-minute jam fest Trucker's Atlas rounded out the band's set as Brock led the abbreviated Modest Mouse orchestra through the historical record, only stopping to change instruments with little banter by the frontman.
As the band progressed through their set, the audience was engaged in singalong after singalong, with Brock sounding more passionate than the frontman has in years. Modest Mouse's album anniversary expedition might have appeared as a nostalgia trip, but the impact of this album held much more sentimental value than simply reliving the good old days. Brock still had something to say, and the Austin audience was hanging on every word. Since Modest Mouse has been hitting the touring circuit with all their might since touring resumed after the pandemic simmered down, every show I've had the privilege of seeing has built on each other. This show felt like the climax of what Brock has made in the new age of Modest Mouse.
When the band returned to the stage to play an encore centered around tracks not from the Lonesome Crowded West record, the audience was left to guess what the band would treat us to next since the rest of the night at this point felt more optional to what the band had promised. When Brock reappeared with the band, Dramamine was the first song to send the audience home. Since this track is the opening song of the band's debut, it felt fitting that the encore would take us even further back in time, much to the audience's liking. Other encore tunes stretched back even further, including the Interstate 8 EP track Edit The Sad Parts, which was a personal highlight for the diehard fans in the audience. Breakthrough, also from the band's debut, wrapped up the night with Brock's signature "YEAH!" being the sheer emphasis heard from the audience as the band jived their way through the night's final tune.
I was left satisfied when the band left the stage for the final time. This show wasn't just good - it was great, and Brock and the band are at their best. My girlfriend, who likes the record as much as I do, came with me, and she was nearing exhaustion when the band concluded their nearly 2-hour rock and roll epic that Austin had been treated to on the early December night. Until next time, Modest Mouse, for what it's worth, you know I'll be here for many more.
RIP Jeremiah Green. Without Green's explosive drum performances in the band for as long as Modest Mouse has existed, none of the band's music would be dynamically or sonically the same. He will be missed.
Full Lonesome Crowded West Streaming: https://modestmouse.bandcamp.com/album/the-lonesome-crowded-west
Michael Maly Photography: