Live at O2 Academy Leeds on Wednesday, 8th July 2015
Modest Mouse, the US indie band par excellence, have always seemed to have held an odd position in the musical landscape which is to say that they come freighted with a reputation that far exceeds their actual popularity or number of actual hits. That reputation, in this country at least, seems to have been elevated further in recent years by the fact that Johnny Marr chose to bestow his immense gifts and charisma on the band during his American sojourn.
If they are good enough for The Smiths' legend then they are good enough for me, British indie guitar fans might have said and despite the fact Marr left the band a number of years ago its probably not stretching things to suggest that many of tonight's near sell-out crowd are here as a result of Marr's implicit 'recommendation'.
As the set draws to a close though you fear that for those for whom this is the case disappointment may be the overriding sensation, as throughout the near two hour set there was nary a memorable guitar riff to be heard. And yet the evening starts in promising enough fashion, with the nine-piece band (including two drummers and a percussionist) entering the stage to bombastic thunderclaps before launching into an incongruous opener Strangers To Ourselves, the prettily downbeat, violin-led title track to their latest release.
But it is the unsubtle, frat boy stylings of Lampshades On Fire that sets the tone for what is to come, with frontman Brock half-rapping his way through the song in a way that was popularised by bands like Everclear in the nineties. Not only does it feel anachronistic, it also lacks any sort of sparkle or charm.
The set picks up with old song, Bury Me With It, which does at least have a ragged, ramshackle energy, as does Dramamine, which features one of the few guitar figures that leaves an impression, as it snakes its way around a grungey piece that feels authentically impassioned. The Ground Walks, With Time In A Box however starts off like a homage to vintage Talking Heads with its white funk rhythms before it runs out of energy as Brock huffs and puffs his way through the lyric without any evident conviction.
Dashboard is better with its upbeat bounce but it still lacks the energy of the recorded version. Thankfully proceedings take a turn for the better with the wonderful Cowboy Dan, which is by turns menacingly creepy and joyously exuberant and features a sublime guitar melody. It is also oddly reminiscent of nineties Belgian band Deus.
And yet this good work is almost instantly erased with the arrival of Pistol...and its thuggish melody and vocal which attempts to beat the crowd into submission with the aural equivalent of a riot police baton. It would be funny if it wasn't so bad.
Brock, whose boorish, arrogant attitude - which extends to calling an audience member an 'asshole' - casts a pall over the entire evening, and co do eventually salvage the set with a strong run of songs at the back end. The Best Room is one of the better songs from the latest album, with its light and shade, whilst closer The Good Times Are Killing Me is gloriously rousing and throws into sharp relief the uninspiring nature of most of what has preceded it.
All things considered on this evidence, unlike life, Modest Mouse really were better in the olden days.