Words y: JC McIlwaine | Images from www.myspace.com/modestmouse
Modest Mouse :: 06.19.08 :: Music Hall of Williamsburg :: New York, NY
The last minute soundcheck seemed interminable, as any soundcheck would at 1:30 in the morning. A "secret show" at Music Hall Of Williamsburg had drawn a sold-out crowd of fans eager to see Modest Mouse play their second show of the night, having already opened up with The National for R.E.M. at Madison Square Garden.
The sound techs crisscrossed the stage, checking levels on the drum kits, guitars, bass, banjo and trumpet. Every time they seemed to have finished, one of them would return to an instrument for further tweaking. "We don't give a fuck! Just play!" became a frequent taunt tossed from the antsy audience. All the while a voice carried on over the music on the PA system, sounding very much like Isaac Brock offering up non sequiturs and greasy pearls of wisdom. Everyone grew increasingly impatient. "It's 2 a.m.!" shouted someone as the night wore on as the band still waited backstage. As the techs continued their endless quest to sweeten the sound, they were greeted with increasingly frequent and nasty insults.
Finally sirens sounded, the side door opened, and out came Modest Mouse. Six men strong, the band filled the tiny stage. They started off with "Trucker's Atlas," Brock singing, "I'm goin' to New York City / And that's in New York, friends." They pounded through a well-received version of "Breakthrough" before bringing down the tempo a bit for "Fire It Up" from last year's We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank.
Brock lit the second of the night's many partially smoked cigarettes. As he exhaled through a green light fog, it had the effect of making him look very much like a dragon as the band tore through "Dancehall" and "Dashboard." Brock thanked the crowd for coming out so late at night, commenting, "I'm usually pretty sure these are my prime hours." As he re-tuned his guitar someone yelled out a request for "Dramamine." Brock replied, "That's not a terrible idea," as Eric Judy nodded and played the opening bassline.
A little while later, between songs, Brock started telling a story about an experience he had growing up. As his meandering tale progressed, he said he guessed he'd better "hone this story in so it's not just some drunk dude rambling onstage. I have come up with a way to end this story," adding that the ending had to do with rednecks and dogs. At this point somebody handed him another beer. "Thank you, sir," he said as he took a sip and laughed. "That's gonna make this story longer." After much beating around the bush the band finally broke into "Wild Pack of Family Dogs."
A little ways into "Tiny Cities," Brock put down his guitar, and before anyone knew what was happening, he was down on the floor starting a mosh pit. This didn't last long – just long enough to really get the crowd moving. He hopped back up onstage, but the front rows flung themselves around haphazardly for the rest of the night.
| Modest Mouse by Aaron Farrington |
Much of the fun of seeing Modest Mouse comes from the energy of engagement between the band and the audience. It's not everyday that Brock will get in the audience and start dancing, but you can always count on him to spin some yarns. Brock is a both an observer and a storyteller, and his level of sarcasm varies depending on his mood. When he's in a bad mood, the audience bears the brunt of his wit. But when he's feeling chipper everyone's along for the ride. On nights like this, even when he's picking on someone he's prone to apologize. "You look like the bionic man," he commented at one point to a man standing in the front row, who was juggling a camera and a cell phone. "I mean, just be where you are." A moment later Brock made nice, saying, "I'm not trying to pick on you. I shouldn't even be talking into the mic. I'm gonna quit." The "bionic man" said something in reply. Brock nodded, noting, "Legitimate reason given," before leading the band into a fitting song for that moment, "We've Got Everything."
As that song ended, Brock wrung the sweat from his shirt. The band then started in on "The Whale Song," an unreleased number and probably one of the best of the night. A long intro worked its way into lyrics about finding a way out, a common theme in Brock's verses. With time for only one more song due to a curfew, the band picked up all manner of instruments and played "The Good Times Are Killing Me." Everyone was in on the action. One of the sound techs played a shaker, while another played a guitar and many in the crowd sang along.
As the house lights came up, the crowd filtered out into the night, greeted by a lightening sky to the east and the first chirps of awakening birds. Some looked forward to work, some to another beer, while others like myself just put one foot in front of the other in the direction of bed. All of us, I'm sure, would have gladly done it again the next night.
JamBase | Dawn
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