The Dirty Dozen Brass Band
Hard Rock Live, Orlando, Fl • June 24, 2008
It has taken the band fifteen years to do it, but Modest Mouse has made its way out of the tunnel of indie rock and into the white-hot spotlight of the mainstream.
They sold out three consecutive nights at The Social in 2004, but their 2008 tour found them housed in the much larger Hard Rock Live. Again they were greeted with a sold-out crowd. Maybe it’s the fact that Johnny Marr (The Smiths) is now a band member, maybe it’s the strength of their latest album We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, or maybe the greater masses have just finally caught on to the creative genius that is Modest Mouse.
A seven-piece brass band who played big band, blues, and swing standards (“John the Revelator,” “When the Saints Go Marching In”) was an odd choice as an opening band, but The Dirty Dozen Brass Band was an unlikely success. The New Orleans ensemble not only demonstrated some serious skills on the brass end, but their guitarist Jake Eckert was a virtuoso.
The only slip in their otherwise impressive performance was when a second guitarist stepped in for a song. Not only did he stand stiffly on the edge of the group, looking awkward, but his volume was cranked up higher than everyone else’s. For a band that seemed to operate as a well-oiled machine, it was a strange oversight to have allowed such a distraction.
After a patience-thinning 60 minutes, Modest Mouse finally hit the stage to uproarious applause.
The first thing I noticed (I’m a Smiths fan, how could I not?!) was how young Johnny Marr still looks. Aside from some rough edges carved into his world-weary face, he doesn’t appear to have aged since 1987! Nor has his signature jangle guitar tone altered in the years since The Smiths’ split. It took a good song or two for me to tear my focus away from the one-time Morrissey collaborator and just hear the music. Once I did, I found a satisfaction that the band’s recorded albums have never quite given me. Modest Mouse is definitely a live band, and one not to be missed. There’s an energy in the volume of their sound that needs to be felt in a way that a stereo or iPod can’t deliver.
Opening up with “King Rat,” band leader Isaac Brock sang with a Frank Black freneticism, making the banjo sound downright punk rock. Contorted faces and finger-splitting aggression gave the otherwise nice-boy Brock’s face a darkened edge. The mad scientist leader quickly traded his banjo for a guitar and went on to lead the Washington bunch through a lengthy set that edged over the two-hour mark.
Fresh off of a supporting stint with R.E.M., Modest Mouse has proven worthy of its own high-end headlining tour — a top billing arena tour may not be too far off in the future.
To see more photos of this show, and others, go to www.jencray.com.
Modest Mouse: www.modestmousemusic.com