Modest Mouse/764-HERO/The Shins
Modest Mouse appreciates the power of a good hoax, whether it’s spreading rumors about its major-label debut being based on the scribbled ramblings of a deranged fan or having a fellow on crutches hobble out and testify as to how the band changed his life, only to have singer Isaac Brock burst the bubble later by revealing “he’s not really a cripple.” Similarly, its songs thrive on misleading twists, grinding to false endings before roaring back with more noise than it seemed possible that the indie-rock trio could muster. And it must be these mischievous musical antics that inspired a surprisingly large and diverse (read: less than 100 percent jaded scenesters) crowd to check out a band that still operates beneath the radar of MTV and rock radio, even after having signed to Epic.
One drunken chap was quite insistent that those around him devise a way to move to the group’s unpredictable, murky compositions. “Dance, you white motherfuckers, dance!,” he screamed at inopportune times, his alcohol-fueled warble breaking the mood created by Modest Mouse’s intricate low-volume jams. Both the band and fans fortunate enough not to be standing directly next to the rabble-rouser blocked him out admirably; his close neighbors visibly gritted their teeth and focused intently on the stage. The closest Modest Mouse came to quenching this boozehound’s desire for a danceable beat was a pulsing bass-powered segment that brought to mind Golden Earring’s “Twilight Zone,” but the group would soon shock any booty-shakers into submission with a jarring burst of noise punctuated by Brock’s odd method of pressing his guitar against his face and screaming with his lips buried between the strings. Lest anyone think he was merely performing the show-off guitarist’s gimmick of playing the instrument with his teeth, Brock would repeat this unique stunt several times during Modest Mouse’s more intense moments, and the sound it produced was truly bizarre.
Then again, the sounds Modest Mouse produced using traditional means were also unusual. There were a few stabs at melody, some stirring percussive jams (during which a fourth member pitched in), sporadic strings of passionate, clear vocals, and several moments when all the elements came together to devastating effect. There were also lengthy stretches during which each member seemed headed in a different direction, leading to promising songs being drawn and quartered. Still, the band’s experimental, uncompromising nature is part of its appeal, and if it hadn’t engaged in such rambling sonic exploration, its fans might have felt as if they were on the wrong end of yet another Modest Mouse prank.
Some of the unenthralled fans who sat through 764-HERO‘s painfully unmemorable set might have assumed this group’s inclusion on the bill was a particularly cruel Modest Mouse joke, but the Seattle-based band actually boasts an impressive résumé, with its latest release hitting the top 10 on CMJ‘s charts. Perhaps its meandering guitar-rock sounds more crucial on record, but on stage it came across as nondescript noise. Faring better were The Shins, who at least featured a charismatic singer with a wavering, Robert Smith-like voice and a keyboardist who supplied their songs with sorely needed atmosphere