Fan Belt @ Summerfest – Modest Mouse, Miller Lite Oasis, Saturday, July 3
At 10:00 p.m. (on the dot!), air raid sirens wailed from assorted wall of speakers, bombs bursted in mid-air over the Milwaukee lakefront and the teeming hormonal mass of marijuana and beer-fueled youth rose up to roar as Modest Mouse took the Miller Lite Oasis stage.
Issac Brock, the guts and brains of the biggest band to lurch forth from The Great Northwest since Nirvana, pulled a few familiar bedspring guitar notes to begin “Dramamine” from This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About. He looked like a man from Seattle–bearded and tired.
The song began from its spare beginning to a torrential, cacophonous downpour: choppy guitars, two drummers, fat, looping bass lines. They were off to a good start.
Everyone knew “Float On” and everyone went wild. It’s their biggest hit, an unlikely one, popularized by a really great video MTV threw their media heft behind back in 2004. Radio followed suit, and Modest Mouse became nearly house-hold names from there.
I’ve seen Modest Mouse twice; once in 2000 — following the brilliant The Moon And Antarctica release — at Portland’s famed Crystal Ballroom, and once with Man Man at The Rave here in Milwaukee. Man Man put on a show that Modest Mouse had no hope of matching and left the venue packing up and taking all the momentum with them. And the sound was (as always) horrible at The Rave. In Portland, on their own turf, they were
good, not great. The Crystal Ballroom is charming, but it’s another echoing cave built for the non-amplified sound of the 1920s.
I’ve come to think of Modest Mouse as an excellent studio band, but not the greatest group to see live. By the end of “Bury Me With It,” I began to rethink my position.
I found a spot just behind the soundboard so I could hear what they were hearing (as there was no hope of getting anywhere within beer-throwing distance of the stage) and what I heard was sparkling clean. I thought about all this as a kid crowd-surfed behind me while “Education” blared, packed thick with electric guitar. The song ends and, as if on cue, crowd drops kid, kid hits ground. Irony, ha ha.
The opening notes to “3rd Planet,” the lead track from 2000’s The Moon And Antarctica, has always given me chills. The crowd knew the words, and I’m felt warm and happy suddenly… “3rd Planet” is no radio hit. It’s packed with both wonder and regret… and not for mass consumption. Again, I’m thinking of Crystal Ballroom a full decade ago.
What I will always remember about that show was this group of little girls behind me, all tweens before there was such a term. They knew all the words (I know this because they sang them all) and my heart felt good. Back then, Modest Mouse was the big local band in the Northwest, a band that had a history of writing ponderous material that had layer upon layer of meaning to anyone who listened closely enough. I wondered what those girls grew up to be as Eric Judy hit the high and tight bass notes that give “3rd Planet” its bounce.
AND THEN… the inevitable. Modest Mouse ran outta gas. “Here’s To Now” was quiet, plunky and clunky. “Interstate 8” meandered, and Brock seemed disinterested. “Autumn Beds” made me want to lie down on the ground and nap. The sound guy lost the lead guitar early in “Gravity Rides Everything” and Brock, carrying an acoustic, planted his guitar up against an amp for some random noise to finish off the mess. “Cities Made Of Ashes” had percussion that sounded like engine knock and some heated fret work, which brought them back, but then… they left.
They made the crowd work their asses off for a full what, 10 minutes for an encore, and they came out with a lazy rendition of “Fire It Up,”which ain’t all that great a track to begin with. Then there was something else — Brock tells everyone not to drink and drive, with a GIANT, RIDICULOUS MILLER LITE VORTEX BOTTLE backdrop behind him.
I dunno. They were great for awhile, the best I’ve ever seen them. Inconsistency is Modest Mouse’s consistency, I guess.