I’ve been standing in the crowd for going on an hour now. Empty stage. Empty Beer cups and a steadily emptying wallet (f*ck you, six-dollar Miller Lites.) Years of pent up nostalgic attachment to Modest Mouse’s music has me restless. Nervous even. Seeing a favorite band for the first time is similar to meeting a hero- there’s always that nagging fear that they’ll disappoint you. Then the lights drop and the crowd ignites. I scan the discography in my head for the perfect opener- hell, anything would be amazing. It’s Modest Mouse.
Is there anything worse than the deflation of not knowing the opening song at a concert of one of your favorite bands? I’m forfeiting some of my indie-cred here, but I had never heard “The Whale Song” before. No bother. The unfamiliar introduction granted me more time to absorb my surroundings.
The NorVa in Norfolk, Virginia exudes a post-apocalyptic vibe. A warehouse style venue with rigid edges and an upper level where those who couldn’t wedge themselves into the mob below crane their necks over the railings and rain down beer foam. The acoustics are of the deafening sort- where you could yell the most embarrassing things to your friends, and they would never hear you.
For the majority of the crowd, the show officially began with song number two. “3rd Planet.” There’s just something incredible about being immersed within an entire audience unafraid to belt out every lyric, no matter how ridiculous they sound doing it. Though I couldn’t hear a thing over the amplifiers ricocheting electric guitar off of hundreds of skulls, I’d like to imagine we sounded good. Or, at the very least, in key.
Frontman Isaac Brock wasn’t technically a frontman at all. He led the band from stage left. Modest, right? How fitting. “Trailer Trash” was next. A scary reflection on a white-trash childhood in a trailer park, smothered with fears of inadequacy and feelings of regret. All of those negative emotions exploding into a musical fireball that engulfed the crowd in hot lights and piercing guitar.
Around the time when the floor transitioned from slightly sticky to Defcon 5 shoe magnetism (more alcoholic precipitation from the second level), the band eased into “Custom Concern.” Slower, sadder tunes don’t necessarily translate well into live settings. Such additions to the setlist run the high risk of filling bathroom stalls and bar tabs. But something about waking up at noon, finding your shoes and being pissed off about having to go to work registered with the crowd. The collective voice of general admission overtook Brock’s vocals: “Gotta go to work, gotta go to work, gotta have a job.”
The appearance of a banjo evoked requests from the audience of songs featuring the familiar twang of five strings. Blaring horns launched “This Devil’s Workday,” and even at the expense of a sack full of puppies set out to freeze, the crowd consumed the tune with vigor. Existentialist anthem “Bukowski” was next, followed by a time machine back to high school in the form of “Ocean Breathes Salty.” I have to admit, I’ve never heard hundreds of voices unify in such hilariously amazing falsetto before (You missed! You missed!)
It’s hard for a band not to break out the song that showed them the door to critical acclaim, so naturally “Float On” made a welcomed appearance. And why not? It’s a damn fun song to sing along to, even if half the time you’re impersonating the guitar melody. Post-song finally brought us some interaction with Brock, which was mostly incomprehensible babble, cursing, something about his new haircut and a plea for somebody from the audience to toss up a hair tie. A headband descended from the second level allowing Brock to “look like Keith Richards for a few songs.”
One last time, the banjo came out of the wood-work for the heaviest song of the evening, “Satin in a Coffin.” There were some structural trimmers in the buildings during that one. If you hadn’t lost your voice or your mind by that point, you were obligated to.
Encore breaks amuse me. Everyone knows the band is coming back out for a second serving, but the unwritten law of concert-going still binds the crowd to yell their asses off until they fire the amps back up.
This encore break was less of a break and more of an extended interlude- what one fan referred to as the “longest bong hit in human history.” Even after 10 minutes, the audience never faded. They earned a gem of an encore for their efforts. The pulsing bass line of “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes” energized the flesh mob swimming on the floor. “Shit in your Cut” into “Fire it Up.” And after some banter between band mates, some suggestions from the upper balcony, and a “f*ck it,” from Brock, Modest Mouse sent the crowd home with a beautifully mutated combination of “Styrofoam Boots” and “Wild Pack of Family Dogs.”
What would be the opposite of phoning it in? Kicking down our doors and shoving a cursive written note down our throats? That’s what happened then. 20 years later, and Modest Mouse is still the independent music standard that infant bands shoot for. If they’re playing near you, go see them. You won’t be disappointed. These are just my modest opinions and, like kittens, I’m givin’ them away.