We Refused To Die And The Ship Never Sank: Modest Mouse at the Prospect Park Bandshell
    • TUESDAY, JULY 28, 2015

    • Posted by: Don Saas

    (Photo Credit: Emily Korn)

    Sometimes I get crazy ideas in my head...ideas that are perhaps more fit for a collection of essays or a literary journal than a journalistic publication. Sometimes, I get a crazy idea to say write a 20+ page first-person simulation of the actual experience of being at a rock concert -- not a review of the show; a piece that submerges you in the totality (emotional, physical, perhaps even spiritual) of being at a show. But, as it turns out, if I write about a show in that sort of honest, enveloping detail, I might admit to things that could get me in trouble in a professional sense. What sort of things? Use your imagination. And so I decide to do safe, traditional concert coverage. But every creative impulse in my body is raging against that decision because last week at the Prospect Park Bandshell, I caught one of the most electrifying and body-moving rock & roll sets of my entire life, and Modest Mouse deserves more than the traditional, safe approach.

    I'd only been to the Bandshell once before -- I caught Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds there last year (the recent death of Nick Cave's son is a horrific tragedy) -- but let's all be honest, the venue doesn't necessarily have the best acoustics...especially when you remember that they have to keep the volume at certain levels so as not to offend the delicate sensibilities of the yuppies that call Park Slope home. And maybe there are some yuppies that are into psychedelic noise rock being blasted at top volume, but I suspect that isn't the case. That said, from the moment Modest Mouse took the stage, I could have given two shits about the uneven vocal mixing and the occasional bleeding of the guitar amps. Modest Mouse live is a Category 5 Hurricane of rock, LSD, pop, and the possible mental instability (in the best way) of Isaac Brock. Their concerts aren't to be missed.

    I was at the show with some friends. We'll call them Former Coworker Current Friend (FCCF for short), Industry Peer (IP) and Industry Peer's boyfriend (we'll call him Bob). Part of what I do is go to shows for a living. I'd say it's fair that I average at least one or two shows a week (and then there are the suicidal weeks where I go to three or more and hate myself and music and everything involved in the whole process of "sound" cause Jesus f***ing Christ, sometimes you need to sleep and just not leave your apartment and play video games like a normal person). And that means I go to a lot of shows by myself. And you know what's fun about going to rock concerts for bands you don't necessarily love by yourself? Not a god damn thing. Cause you know what's really not fun? Social anxiety. And you know what makes my social anxiety worse than anything on the planet? Well, it's technically being at places where I'm reminded that I grew up poor in rural West Virginia and that I'm secretly a yokel and don't belong among sophisticated, cultured New Yorkers. But being at concerts for bands I don't know all that well is probably my #2 source of anxiety. Having a mild panic attack between the openers and the headliner in a set cause you don't know anyone in this venue and you see a bunch of people having fun and being with friends and you're by yourself and you know it's not okay to strike up conversation with total strangers is a lot of fun, let me tell you. And there are only two cures for this miserable social anxiety: being with your own friends and one of those self-medication things that I can't talk about for professional reasons. And, thankfully cause my friends were at this show, I get to enjoy one of the first concerts I've been to in weeks without a shred of my usual omnipresent anxiety that I'm not a well-adjusted adult with a firm grasp of how to behave in social situations.

    I should admit another thing up front. I'm not a huge Modest Mouse fan. Scandalous, I know...I know the band's hits, and I think The Moon and Antarctica is one of the greatest albums of the aughts, but I didn't hear Modest Mouse for the first time til college when I got Rock Band 2 and "Float On" was one of the songs in the game. Maybe these are things I shouldn't admit as the Managing Editor of an indie rock & roll webmagazine but we've already covered how late my indie rock awakening occurred here. I've never listened to The Lonesome Crowded West all the way through. We all have blind spots in our musical education, and the finer points of Modest Mouse's discography is one for me. But after last Wednesday night, I feel comfortable saying that Modest Mouse live is the sort of required live experience that you need to catch even if you've never heard a single song in the band's nineteen year library of music. They're that good.

    Psychedelic rock that becomes Sonic Youth-esque noise (good Sonic Youth...Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth) does not feel like the most inviting sound for a casual fan, but Modest Mouse utilizes noise in the way the best noise bands always have...in service of actual melody. Dissonance and melody aren't mutually exclusive. Hooks and avant-garde/prog/high-concept rock aren't mutually exclusive. Listen to Kid A and try to tell me that on any track that isn't "Treefingers" that Radiohead decided to totally eschew hooks. You can't say that cause that's nonsense. Kid A is Radiohead at the height of their mastery of minimalist hooks. And having released their first record in 1996 -- I have an intern in the office this summer who is younger than This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About (what the f***, right?!) -- Modest Mouse have had plenty of time to perfect their mix of freak-rock and unabashed "you have to dance and scream along to this right now" pop-rock.

    And there are people who resent that turn Modest Mouse took later in their career away from their lo-fi roots and towards arena ready anthems but those people are listening to a different Modest Mouse than me. Yeah, "Float On" was a massive smash on the Billboard charts, but that song is still weird as f***. That's maybe not the most poetic and critical way to describe a song but bear with me. Isaac Brock snarls and spits his way through a song about hitting a cop car with his car and "fake Jamaicans" taking his money. Smiths-esque guitars jangle through endless waves of reverb. There's a Zen-stoner lucidity to the narratives wrapped within narratives. Modest Mouse didn't sell out. They changed what radio pop could sound like. And if you don't like that, it's your prerogative but I'm also going to say you're being a snobby asshole. The only difference between "Dramamine" and "Float On" is the radio play the latter got.

    And Wednesday at the Bandshell, I saw a band who had mastered every facet of their sound. Former Coworker Current Friend was losing his shit for the noisier, deep cuts that I had never heard before in my life. FCCF is the definition of cool to me. I hope he doesn't take this in a weird way, but he's done everything I've wanted to do in life but he's done it younger and better and now he's past where I am. But seeing him nerd out to tracks from Interstate 8 was the most humanizing moment of our friendship. And I'm like 90% sure that Industry Peer would have been willing to channel her own inner Band-Aid (think Penny Lane in Almost Famous for those not immediately picking up on that reference) for Isaac Brock if her boyfriend hadn't been with us based on all of the fangirling I was witnessing. And, let's be honest, it's hard to blame her. Isaac Brock may be slightly deranged -- he kept seguing in & out of strange, affected accents and Dadaist non-sequiturs -- but he is also possessed on that stage by that same spirit of rock & roll that made Robert Plant & David Byrne the greatest rock & roll frontmen of all time. He's everything a great rock frontman should be: proficient, improvisational, and in love with the sound he's making and the audience that's eating it up.

    But what made the Modest Mouse show truly special was that Modest Mouse is a band. And it is a band of exceptionally talented musicians -- even if some of them look like they just traveled out of a David Lynch picture about Oregon in the late 90s. Violinist Lisa Molinaro possibly impressed me even more than Isaac Brock. And in the songs where her duties were required (she often played guitar on tracks where she wasn't playing violin), she outshined the boys on stage with her magnetic performance.

    Modest Mouse at the Prospect Park Bandshell was a show where I danced. It was a show where I swayed on my spot lost in the groove of another richly textured instrumental breakdown. It was a show where I lost my voice singing along to "Float On" and "Dramamine." It was a show where I contemplated how much of the course of 2000s indie guitar rock was shaped by "Gravity Rides Everything" the second it came on. It was a show where even after I said goodbye to FCCF and IP and Bob that I couldn't get the performance out of my head during my 30+ minute walk back home from the park. it was a show that reminded me of everything that I love about rock & roll and why I love my job. It was everything a rock concert should be.

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