Photo of Modest Mouse by James Joiner
“About two hours ago, I was like, ‘This fucker’s getting canceled’,” Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock joked to open their St. Louis show. Fortunately, though it was indeed raining buckets around rush hour on this particular Wednesday, the storm was light on lightning and tornadic activity, and the friendly confines of Saint Lous Music Park were no worse for the wear other than the men’s room floor being coated with a slick layer of what I’m pretty sure was rainwater. (God, I hope it was rainwater.)
Many bands like to open their shows with the opening track off their latest album, but Modest Mouse flipped the script by launching with the closer from 2021’s The Golden Casket, a gentle, hypnotic run through “Back to the Middle” that exploded into noisy squalls of Hum-esque guitars and a rhythm so percussive you could feel Jeremiah Green’s kickdrum in your chest. The sound mix leaned heavy on the guitars—the skip-along guitar riff of classic favorite “3rd Planet” came through loud and clear, but Brock’s vocals had a thick layer of fuzz on them and percussionist Ben Massarella’s shaker and tambourine were completely inaudible.
The vocal fuzz remained an annoyance throughout, but everything else was pretty well dialed in in time for “Fire It Up,” a song whose stoner-baiting lyrics have always struck me as kinda dopey and pandering, but in the band’s latest arrangement, the song has been prettied up to the point that it was downright lovely. Do—do I actually like this song now? On this night, I will say, to quote the song’s lyrics, “Honestly, it was beautifully done.”
Similarly beautiful was the show’s lighting, which was innovatively individualized: each song was given a pair of thematic colors that gave them their own unique feel. The somber “Black Cadillacs” was bathed in red and purple, for example, while “Fire It Up” crackled with pink and yellow and “3rd Planet” had earthly appropriate blue and green. It’s such a deceptively simple choice but it gave each song its own flavor without being distracting or gimmicky, and made the spacious Music Park feel more intimate than I’d have thought possible when first looking at that distant stage.
Brock’s stage banter was rare, but what we got was hilarious. The highlight of the night came when he questioned bassist and, apparently, avid birdwatcher Russell Higbee about a bird he spotted earlier, which was called an indigo bunting. This led to the band creating a song called “Indigo Bunting” (which, let’s be honest, totally sounds like a Modest Mouse song title) on the fly, which could have been a sloppy mess but instead was a nice, stomping rocker in the classic Modest Mouse vein with some improvised lyrics that were legit hilarious. I sincerely hope this ends up on an album or EP some day.
Impressively, the band’s 90-minute main set managed to avoid any real lulls in the energy. “Guilty Cocker Spaniels” (yellow and purple) started off pretty and jangly before Smashing Pumpkins-esque guitars soared in on the song’s bridge. The Pixies-esque early track “Breakthrough” (also yellow and purple) turned full sludge metal for its outro, Brock wailing his lyrics into his guitar pickups. “The Devil’s Workday” was a full-on banjo-metal hoedown smoldering in yellow, red, and white.
The crowd was clearly feeling the show, with pretty much the entire seated area on the floor standing for the duration, though it took until a full two-thirds into the set when the straight-up disco drums and funk bass of 2007 hit single “Dashboard” kicked in before they really got moving. The band saved most of the crowd pleasers for this portion of the set, such as a huge singalong of “Float On” (oceanic in blue and green) and a sauntering “The Ground Walks, With Time in a Box.” Instrumentally, that song was locked into a perfect groove, but like many of the upbeat numbers, the distortion heaped on the vocals kept the song from achieving full liftoff. (Isaac Brock is by no means a high precision singer, but his hiccups and yelps form an indelible part of the band’s personality, and the distortion sanded those edges off.) New track “Leave a Light On” sat comfortably between the band’s big hits, its New Wave swoon, Edge-esque sustain-drenched guitars, and strutting vocals feeling a bit like Echo & the Bunnymen as led by INXS’s Michael Hutchence. (Does that even make sense? It did while I was listening to it.)
The loudest cheers of the night came during “Never Fuck a Spider on the Fly”—not because of anything happening onstage, but because the Blues scored an overtime goal over the Avalanche in that night’s playoff game. I’m sure the band was thoroughly confused as to why everyone liked the middle of the first verse of that song so much.
The main set wrapped with the closer of the band’s 2004 breakthrough Good News for People Who Love Bad News, “The Good Times Are Killing Me,” pink and yellow illuminating the song’s nice, gentle acoustic jangle.
When it comes to getting a band to come back out for an encore, Saint Louis Music Park has made applause passé. Why clap when the aluminum floors of the tiered, stadium-style seating that takes up the venue’s back half gives such a satisfyingly loud clang when stomped upon? Soon everyone was doing it, the clang turning into a roar as it echoed around the Park. “I love chanting,” Brock said when the band retook the stage, “but I love stomping more.”
The band kicked off the encore with “Dramamine,” the lights finally going full technicolor for the opener off the band’s 1996 debut. The Golden Casket track “We Are Between” made for a less pleasant follow-up, with guitars that were literally ear-splitting, squealing to the point of being downright painful. Fortunately, the show ended on a satisfying note with “Satin in a Coffin,” red light bathing the band as the song’s creepy banjo and swirling organ brought the show in for a safe landing, with nary a raindrop in sight. | Jason Green
Back to the Middle
Fuck Your Acid Trip
Fire It Up
Guilty Cocker Spaniels
This Devil’s Workday
Leave a Light On
The Ground Walks, With Time in a Box
Never Fuck a Spider on the Fly
The Good Times Are Killing Me
We Are Between
Satin in a Coffin
Modest Mouse on tour:
05.30 – Portland, ME – State Theater*
06.01 – Montreal, QC – MTELUS
06.02 – Toronto, ON – History
06.03 – Grand Rapids, MI – GLC Live at 20 Monroe
06.04 – Chicago, IL – Aragon Ballroom*
06.05 – Cleveland, OH – Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica*
06.07 – La Fayette, NY – Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards*
06.08 – New York, NY – Central Park Summerstage at Rumsey Playfield*
08.19 – Portland, OR – Pioneer Square
08.20 – Portland, OR – Pioneer Square
08.22 – Vancouver, BC – Orpheum
08.24 – Edmonton, AB – Edmonton Convention Centre
08.25 – Calgary, AB – Southern Jubilee Auditorium
08.29 – Boise, ID – Outlaw Field at the Idaho Botanical Garden
*with The Cribs