Live at O2 Academy Leeds on Wednesday, 8th July 2015
Modest Mouse like to keep us waiting. About eight years between their superlative album 'We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank' and this year's follow up 'Strangers To Ourselves'. And seemingly almost as long between the end of tonight's support and their eventual arrival on stage. Hell, this Leeds gig was originally supposed to take place about eighteen months ago and, by the time Isaac Brock and company show up to the sounds of a thunderstorm over the PA, my joints are aching and I've visibly aged.
Sauntering on, they open with the new album's title track - a slow, languid lullaby about confusion and regret- not really the thing to calm our frayed nerves and frustration about having to wait so bloody long. However, normal service is resumed and all is forgiven when they launch into a raucous interpretation of 'Lampshades on Fire' - a song which acts as a kind of 'Stars On 45' for all that is good about Modest Mouse. A lunatic guitar driven chug through garbled genius lyrics, a frenetic chorus and all accompanied by the sweetest 'ba, ba, baas' in the background. This is what I'd really call a party now indeed.
It's on this second song that Brock reveals his strengths as a front man and focus for the band. Basically, he does a fine line in mad eyed staring. It's as if, as Marwood once put it, "his mechanism's gone." Added to this, his distinctive throaty bark, commitment to bashing the hell out of his guitar and eccentric flourishes throughout the gig all contribute to the impression that he's genuinely not phoning it in. At one point towards the end of the set he hauls the body of his guitar on to his shoulder and starts singing into the pickups sending a feedbacky electric scream throughout the hall. Never seen or heard anything like that before - unbelievably effective and a little bit sexy. He's also a bit of a dandy although I really wish I hadn't googled the possible reasons for dangling a red handkerchief from the back pocket of your jeans at work the day after the concert.
It's not a one man show by any means though. Modest Mouse are one of those bands who like to cram as many musicians on stage as possible. Do we need more percussion? Yes! Brass? Yes! Strings? You betcha! Special mention goes to Lisa Molinaro here for switching between violin, guitar and keyboards at any given moment. It's this eclecticism tonight that more than makes up for the realisation that I'm not going to hear the words, "Ladies and Gentlemen would you please welcome to the stage...Mr Johnny Marr!" during a fiery midset reading of 'Dashboard'. A brief reunion with the band's most notable ex-member would have been wonderful but they can clearly manage in his absence. Over the last twenty years or so the band have a huge catalogue of songs to draw from but they don't seem over rehearsed and play a radically different set each night so you're never quite sure exactly what you're going to get. Having said that, it's a pretty safe bet you're going to get 'Float On' and the energy the band throw into it coupled with Brock's yelping genius lift this song, which essentially has the same message as a banal cat poster or an 'inspirational' quote shared by your least favourite Facebook friend, into something wholly moving and memorable.
The performance as a whole takes on the characteristics of one of their albums- long, somewhat rambling but full of entertaining and surprising diversions. At one point Brock was more concerned to find out just how many damn owls there are in Leeds than play on. Didn't catch the answer but the singer endearingly granted anything of the merch stall to the audience member with the info. They closed with an insane 'Styrofoam Boots/It's All Nice on Ice, Alright' and so, after a break longer than most bands' careers, Modest Mouse proved why they instil such devotion. I hope they don't leave it so long until next time.