Modest Mouse, Live
It’s been a little while since we’ve heard anything from the Seattle-based alternative rock band Modest Mouse.
Their last album, “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank,” was released in 2007, which is around the time I first saw them, at the Pines Theatre in Northampton. They were very good, and I was delighted when they announced a short North American tour that would bring them to Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown. I’ve been to Brewery Ommegang before, to see Wilco, and it’s a lovely spot — a grassy, picturesque field in the middle of nowhere. That said, I wouldn’t trek all the way out to Cooperstown to see just anybody. But Modest Mouse is a band I really wanted to see, despite their long absence and dearth of new music. Rock songs don’t get much better than “Dashboard” and “Float On,” two of the band’s biggest hits.
The Modest Mouse concert last Friday in Cooperstown was a lot like the concert at the Pines. The setlist was similar, featuring several new songs but mostly older material, as befits a band that hasn’t released a new album in seven years. The setting — an outdoor venue — was also similar. The key difference was weather: It was cool and rainy, and although I had prepared for the rain, I wasn’t quite as prepared for the cool temperature. I’d packed a poncho and change of clothes, but it hadn’t occurred to me to bring along a hat and mittens, which is what I really needed. At times, my hands felt awfully cold, although this was partly due to the fact that I spent the earlier part of the evening clutching a cold beer in my hands.
The music more than made up for the lousy weather. Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls opened the show, and they were excellent. I’d heard some of Turner’s music and hadn’t been too impressed, but his performance completely won me over. A British folk/punk singer, Turner impressed with his wit, energy and finely crafted songs, as well as his sharply dressed and highly skilled backing band.
Modest Mouse took the stage around 9:30, which is around the time a steady rain began to fall. This meant that there were often little pauses between songs, so band members could re-tune their instruments. But these little pauses had little impact on the band’s momentum, as the musicianship and overall quality of sound more than made up for the weather-related difficulties. For a band that’s been fairly quiet in recent years, Modest Mouse’s songs seemed just as vital, clever and bracingly surreal as ever, and lead singer Isaac Brock seemed especially engaged. And for those hoping the band will finally release a new album, there was a sign of hope: Modest Mouse played three new songs, “Be Brave,” “Sugar Boats,” and “S--- in Your Cut,” and they all sounded great.
As much as I enjoyed the concert, I left a little early — midway through the encore. I was cold, wet and tired, and the hour-and-a-half drive back to Albany was starting to seem a little bit daunting. It was the right decision, though maybe I’d be more regretful if Modest Mouse had played “Ocean Breathes Salty” after I took my leave. I got home around 1:45 a.m., and fell asleep with the insanely catchy Modest Mouse song “Paper Thin Walls” running through my brain. With any luck, a new album will be released this year, and there will be new Modest Mouse songs to burrow their way into my consciousness. But for now, the band’s show at Brewery Ommegang will have to tide me over.
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