Modest Mouse / Brand New. Red Rocks. 06.29.16
I have to admit I went into last night’s dual-headlining show with a healthy amount of skepticism. There was a time when Modest Mouse was my absolute favorite rock band, but that time had long since passed. The group from the Pacific Northwest was one of the first truly ‘indie’ bands to earn my complete and absolute attention and adoration. Isaac Brock’s wordplay, and piercingly punk vocal delivery, would skip across the band’s signature, anarchic sound like fingernails on a chalkboard, but in the most pleasing of ways.
Their extremely lo-fi (arguably unlistenable) cassette tapes gave way to the classic era of creatively for the original Modest Mouse line-up. Starting with This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About, and concluding with the Building Nothing Out of Something compilation, the trio of Isaac Brock, Jeremiah Green, and Eric Judy could do no wrong.
The move to Epic Records for The Moon & Antarctica was a risky one, but the quality of the finished product was enough to squash any sell-out accusations. The true changes in style wouldn’t occur until almost four years later, when Good News for People Who Love Bad News saw an expanded line-up and a hit single catapult the band into the mainstream. The material that followed had a decidedly more accessible sound, but in their defense, I seriously doubt anyone would ever mistake a Modest Mouse song for anything else. Even in their latest incarnation, they never sound like anything but Modest Mouse.
So why was I skeptical?
Having seen the band perform countless times, through every ‘era’ of their existence, I had yet to seriously enjoy a live performance. They were upstaged by The Flaming Lips on the “Unlimited Sunshine Tour” in 2002. Sound issues plagued their hometown performance at the Crystal Ballroom that same year. And whether it be in a small venue or a large outdoor festival, Brock’s vocals never sound anything like they do on the albums. I think the blame usually falls on an engineering staff who don’t know how to balance the band’s unique sound, but the perfectionist in Brock has a tendency to get in the way as well. The guy always tries to self-correct throughout the show, which ends up causing more of a distraction than necessary.
Much to my surprise, the band that appeared at Red Rocks last night was almost unrecognizable from the band I’ve explained above. Taking the stage in broad daylight, to a half empty amphitheater, the two original members (Brock and Green) were joined by six other musicians to deliver a powerful, loud-as-fuck rendition of “Dramamine”. Unfortunately, it would be the only selection from the 90’s, but it was enough to cause a flood of concert-goers to storm the gates and fill the remaining seats. It’s a shame so many people weren’t aware of the early start time (or Modest Mouse’s controversial position in the line-up), but Brock and his new seven-piece band were rocking a full house by the time “Be Brave” segued into “Ocean Breathes Salty”.
“How ya’all doing? If you’re doing bad, you gotta plan your trips better.”
Shedding his denim jacket and long-sleeved button-down in favor of the t-shirt below, Isaac Brock’s intensity could be read in his clinched eyelids and quirky facial tics, as Jeremiah Green and Davey Brozowski teamed up on dual drum kits to shake the place with thunderous percussion during “What People Are Made Of”. After a good run of mostly cerebral selections, “Lampshades on Fire” was a welcome jovial moment that convinced me I needed to spend more time with an album I’d all but ignored.
Red Rocks can be a fickle bitch when it comes to weather, so nothing compares to the experience of being there, under a perfectly clear sky, on a warm summer evening. A quick glance up from our position just behind the sound stage revealed thousands of men and women dancing all the way to the horizon. Performing before the sun has a chance to set is never ideal, but if it’s unavoidable, there is no better place to do it than Red Rocks. The view from the stage is spectacular. And that spectacle could be seen in the eyes of the merry band of musicians as they swapped out conventional and unconventional instruments throughout the show.
There was so much going on that sometimes is was hard to keep track of who was playing what. Traditional rock ‘n’ roll tools were augmented with strings and keys and upright bass and sheet metal, not to mention the plethora of guitars Brock cycled through. As the night began to darken around us, a lit joint hung from Jim Fairchild’s mouth during the slightly sinister “Shit in Your Cut”; and then the Melodica came out for “Bukowski”, before a guy and girl (who I don’t think were actually in the band) introduced a pair horns during the full-on jamboree that was “This Devil’s Workplace”. Lisa Molinaro might have been the most impressive multi-instrumentalist up there though. As the night progressed, she demonstrated expertise on the viola, keyboard, and even the banjo (on “Dashboard”), while also lending her voice to backup vocals when needed.
“God bless you Colorado, it’s nice to play for y’all and shit…”
“Perfect Disguise” and “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes” were obvious highlights of the last half of the performance. “The View” was an appropriate closer as well. “And if it takes shit to make bliss, well, I feel pretty blissfully.” That bliss quickly turned to disappointment and anger though. Advertised as a dual-headlining event, people were expecting a 90-minute set, so things got ugly when the band failed to reappear for the expected encore. There were many (myself included) who came strictly to see Modest Mouse, so as good as the show was, 65 minutes was just not long enough. It was a lengthy opening set at best.
The consensus today is that the aborted performance had to do with sound issues. The fact that Brock was constantly switching out guitars (sometimes mid-song), caused many of those in attendance to feel he pulled the plug because he was unhappy with the engineers. That may very well be. As I said before, it wouldn’t be the first time the engineers were to blame, but it also wouldn’t be the first time Brock got in his own way. I can only speak to my own experience, but everything sounded great from the 17th row. No matter the circumstances, it’s just too bad we were cheated out of what could have been an extended setlist.
Length of show and songs performed aside, I still enjoyed the performance immensely. It was the best Modest Mouse concert I’ve ever attended. It was also one of the best sets I’ve seen at Red Rocks this season. The expanded line-up really added something to the stage that was missing before. Isaac’s vocals came through clear and the volume was turned up the entire time. And again, it was at Red Rocks on nice night…and it really doesn’t get any better than that.
The actual headliners, Brand New, took the stage after a 45-minute intermission; an intermission that just added to the frustration of the Modest Mouse fans. There was a chill to the air and the wind had picked up a bit, but the band had the advantage of darkness. Their light show was obviously superior to anything Brock and crew could have offered earlier in the night. The five-piece band also consisted of dual-drummers, but the main focal point was Jesse Lacey. Standing in front of a floral mic stand, with his guitar hung low, he kicked things off with “Sink” and “Gasoline” from Daisy, while trading clean and screamed vocals with Vincent Accardi.
My assumption that the crowd was predominately there for Modest Mouse turned out to be a false one. Considering myself a casual fan of Brand New, I realized quickly that I was in the minority. I have nothing against their blend of alternative rock meets pop punk with an emo twist, but it has never been my poison of choice. And as much as I enjoyed The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me when it was released, I’d be lying if I said I recognized anything beyond “Jesus” and “Degausser”. My ignorance was drowned out by the madness of the crowd though. Men and women and boys and girls were absolutely losing their shit! Every song an anthem; every verse a rallying cry; every word an arrow to the heart. Honestly, I found their whole style a little too formulaic, but the impact they had on their fans was mind-blowing.
After a 70-minute main set, the band came out for an encore. Addressing rumors of an imminent break-up, Lacey spoke on some of the things he’d like to do before the end comes. Two of those things were “play Red Rocks” and “play with Modest Mouse.” Having achieved both, as well as captured the hearts and minds of a rabid fanbase, who can say what the future holds. Will “Mene” and “I Am a Nightmare” end up on an album? Will “You Won’t Know” end up being the last song Brand New ever performs in Colorado? Those questions would remain unanswered, but that didn’t stop Brand New and their audience from using the night like there would be no tomorrow.
Ocean Breathes Salty
What People Are Made Of
Lampshades on Fire
Fire It Up
Shit in Your Cut
This Devil’s Workday
The Best Room
Tiny Cities Made of Ashes
The Archers Bows Have Broken
Sic Transit Gloria… Glory Fades
I Will Play My Game Beneath the Spin Light
Okay I Believe You, but My Tommy Gun Don’t
The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows
Limousine (MS Rebridge)
At the Bottom
Play Crack the Sky
I Am a Nightmare
You Won’t Know