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Modest Mouse, despite musicianship, disappoints at the Eagles Ballroom

Isaac+Brock+of+Modest+Mouse+performs+at+the+Eagles+Ballroom%2C+May+5.
Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse performs at the Eagles Ballroom, May 5.

Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse performs at the Eagles Ballroom, May 5.

Photo by The Rave

Photo by The Rave

Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse performs at the Eagles Ballroom, May 5.

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Indie rock frontman Isaac Brock is, and has been, a salve for conflicted, capital-r romantic teens in static, invariable towns and situations; those in stark contrast with his own volatile adolescence and early adulthood. He, along with co-founding members Jeremiah Green and Eric Judy, managed to channel that turbulence into the Pacific Northwest rock legacy Modest Mouse and brand its sound with a distinct, delicate rage.

Whatever else the outfit brought to the music industry came second to that terse, concussive sound, which has inspired an intergenerational fanbase of at once raucous and empathic nobodies searching for answers.

I imagine those nobodies in attendance at the sold out, May 5 Eagles Ballroom show left with their questions still unanswered.

The show was disappointing, let’s get that out of the way. This is not to say the band played poorly or that the music fell completely flat, but there were glaring issues with both the technical aspects and the attitude of the show.

The vocals were nearly impossible to discern and most of Brock’s notorious banter was lost to sound issues. The show openers, Mass Gothic, seemed to have similar problems. They were noise, forceful and unstructured. I can imagine why people would enjoy their work, but they were not to my tastes.  What followed was at least 35 minutes of dead air between theirs and Modest Mouse’s set.

This was maybe the most frustrating part. The wait between the opener and the headliner was abnormal, but I attributed the delay to equipment issues or something else out of the band’s control. When the time between the initial set and the encore nearly matched the first quasi-intermission, my empathy evaporated.

Encores are a contentious subject for most frequent concert attendees. Some fans think it’s archaic; some, like myself, enjoy the break, and the opportunity to build tension and re-energize a crowd. Encores can be especially fun for up-and-coming bands that may need the validation of a crowded room chanting their name. Modest Mouse is not one of these bands.

The Eagles Ballroom is a difficult venue to sell out, but they did that. Modest Mouse may have humble origins, but they’ve amassed significant accolades and garnered fiercely loyal support from millions of people. To make an obviously dedicated audience wait that long for an encore everybody knew was going to happen anyway seemed acutely disrespectful. That said, they did deliver a double encore and a combined 22 songs throughout the night, so in a sense, everyone still got what they paid for.

None of my favorite songs made it to the set list, but “Trailer Trash” and “King Rat” won some audience reassurance.  “World at Large” and “Float On” each fell flat. For the former, the sound issues spoiled what should have been an intimate moment with fans. For the latter, it didn’t even sound like everyone was in the same key. It hurt.

The house was also painfully misbehaved. I attend a lot of pop punk shows with teenage audiences and I would rather hang out with them than deal with seemingly-bored, drunk late 20-somethings dropping plastic beer cups on the floor every 12 minutes and screaming side conversations about being “almost 30.” (My perfect concert would involve zero alcohol, absolutely no talking and mandatory audience movement of some degree.)

The show was fun and I enjoyed moments, but the inconsistencies, the poor balance between the vocals and instrumentals and the diva-like perfectionism that led to the longest gaps in play-time of any show I’ve ever attended defined the experience.

I have loved this band for my entire life. My parents were early fans and as I grew into myself I leaned on Brock’s snarling frailty to balance out my own. Perhaps my expectations were too high. I didn’t see God, so of course I was underwhelmed. But I don’t think I was alone in my dissatisfaction (I could hear my complaints echoed by fellow disciples.) I would see them live again, if only to verify that my disappointment was a fluke.

I think this excerpt from the Virginia Wolff story “The Mark on the Wall,” which inspired the band’s name (in it, she writes of “modest, mouse-colored people,”) summarizes the night:

“Indeed, it is curious how instinctively one protects the image of oneself from idolatry or any other handling that could make it ridiculous, or too unlike the original to be believed in any longer.”

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1 Comment

One Response to “Modest Mouse, despite musicianship, disappoints at the Eagles Ballroom”

  1. Damian on July 12th, 2018 8:00 pm

    I absolutely adored this article and the auther’s use of language.

    [Reply]

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