Modest Mouse is the Big Cheese
Once inside, the bottom floor of the Palladium fills with people already shoving and maneuvering their way to the front of the stage for the best view. The lights are dimmed and the first opening act, Japanese Motors, takes the stage. The Orange County quartet gives a solid performance, but the crowd is indifferent to its laid-back, retro surfer rock about girls, waves and fun in the sun. Lead singer Alex Knost has a magnetic on-stage presence that channels a young Mick Jagger or Iggy Pop.
Despite playing for an apathetic crowd while having obscenities and insults hurled at him, Knost kept his swagger on-stage, clutching the microphone stand with one hand and a bottle of beer with the other. Knost’s confidence in the face of a tough crowd made his performance even more entertaining to watch and hear.
Japanese Motors was followed by Mimicking Birds, an up-and-coming band from Portland, Oregon. The soothing, far gentler sounds of Mimicking Birds were just enough to pacify the rowdier members of the audience, who were considerate enough to stop yelling at each other long enough to let lead singer Nate Lacey’s whisper of a voice be heard above the din. Lacey’s sensitive crooning was powerful yet subtle, and was accompanied beautifully by the acoustic guitar. Mimicking Birds’ folk-rock was surprisingly well-received by the crowd.
The floor by now was officially packed as both opening acts had ended, and what was once a slightly crowded floor had now become a tightly-packed swarm of people. The crowd shot looks of disgust at every couple who tried to steal their hard-fought spots in the front.
“The tickets said ‘first come, first serve’ for a reason you know!” a tattooed woman complained. A pompadour-sporting greaser, who was quickly subdued by security, started two fights. The smell of spilled beer and sweat permeated through the air. After waiting 45 tense minutes, Modest Mouse finally took the stage and the crowd lost control. A teenage boy nearby screamed at the top of his lungs to lead singer Isaac Brock, “Isaac, have my babies! I love you!”
The set kicked off with the upbeat “The View,” which got everyone in the audience to throw their hands up and chant, “As life gets longer, awful feels softer / Well it feels pretty soft to me / And if it takes shit to make bliss / Well I feel pretty blissfully.”
However, Modest Mouse was missing one notable member this time around; guitarist Johnny Marr (formerly of The Smiths) had been replaced by Jim Fairchild. His absence was highlighted when a girl in the crowd held up a t-shirt of The Smiths, to which Brock responded bitingly, “That shirt doesn’t really make sense seeing as how no one in this band was ever in The Smiths…”
And that was the extent of Brock’s on stage conversation material; at one point he growled to the crowd, “You guys want some witty banter right? Well I’m all fucking out!” Nobody ever accused Brock of being a sunny fellow, but his noticeable lack of charm didn’t seem to faze the crowd, as they swayed and danced to Modest Mouse’s greatest hits.
At one point, Brock pulled the ultimate rock-star move and played his guitar with his teeth. Brock’s vocal style is difficult to label; the raw power and fiery urgency of his voice were electrifying and a thrill to hear. Eventually, the lyrics and melodies were reduced to incomprehensible yelps and frantic howls as Brock played with an intensely focused energy that made for an amazing live performance.
Songs like “Satin in a Coffin” and “Education” allowed Brock to showcase his vocals at their best. Backed by guitars, banjoes, keyboards and horns, the band never lost its unique edge and stage presence.
The night ended with a sweeping performance of “Tiny Cities.” Overall, the set list touched on each album in the band’s discography, combining the band’s more MTV-friendly songs from its two most recent albums such as “Black Cadillacs” and “Dashboard” with its lesser known tracks including “Baby Blue Sedan” and “Ohio” to create a balance that left even the most die-hard fans in the audience with a smile on their face by the end of the night.