Tag Archives: Modest Mouse

LIVE: Modest Mouse, Crystal Ballroom, Portland, OR

12313650_10153192559870779_4624775635157579718_nModest Mouse // Photo By Hollister Dixon

By Hollister Dixon

One of the most enjoyable things about Modest Mouse as a live entity is that they know they have two audiences: the ones who want to hear the hits (“Float On” and “Dashboard” still get people riled up, after all), and the ones that want to hear deep cuts. The band are in their 21st year with 11 releases under their belt (6 albums and assorted other EPs and compilations), meaning the well that they get to pull from is pretty deep. I started seeing the band perform much later than I probably should have (It took a decade to get around to it), but I’ve since attempted to make up for it by seeing them wherever possible, be it at a festival or at a tiny benefit show in a hole-in-the-wall bar. This weekend, I decided to go whole-hog and see the band’s two-night stint at the Crystal Ballroom, as part of 94.7 KNRK’s “December to Remember” run of shows.

Before we get into those two shows, let’s talk about openers. Saturday night’s opener was a no-brainer, almost to the point of being safe. Mimicking Birds, longtime members of Isaac Brock’s Glacial Pace Recordings, played this same stage with Modest Mouse back in ’09 for MusicFest Northwest’s Glacial Pace showcase. In truth, though, the nature of the show meant that Mimicking Birds was almost a little too sonically safe; Nate Lacy’s group trafficks in patient and twinkling folk-rock, the kind designed for small parties and long car rides, rather than as a complement to a band as raucous as Modest Mouse. and though their sound works quite nicely in the Crystal Ballroom, I couldn’t help but find myself yearning for a much, much smaller venue, or at very least with the band as a headliner. Despite their flirtations with grandeur, the crowd seemed to get a little restless around the halfway point, though the band’s performance didn’t suffer in the very least.

The mild restlessness of the crowd during that set was nothing to the following night. So, Mattress. I take a lot of pleasure in seeing a crowd react to a completely mismatched opener – seeing Big Freedia open for The Postal Service in 2013 was worth the price of admission – but there was something funny in the air Sunday night. Rex Marshall’s music is just insane enough to be absolutely brilliant, but from the moment he wandered onstage bedecked in a gold suit, it was clear that the crowd just was not having it. Were Mattress an actual band the crowd might have reacted differently, but as Marshall swayed and bounced on the mic like the half-cousin of Nick Cave and Richard Cheese, the crowd began to lose their patience, fast. It has been a long time since I heard a crowd so loud during an opener, and it felt like such a waste. Somehow, I can’t get over the image of Isaac Brock sitting backstage, laughing to himself, completely happy in the decision he made.

12308560_10153192450215779_6214355496953956434_nMattress // Photo By Hollister Dixon

But, his performance was undoubtedly wonderful. That Nick Cave/Richard Cheese thing is built upon stratified layers of shifty Las Vegas casino crooners and gurgling, queasy synthesizers, and he knows how to work it. There’s an uneasiness to Mattress, where you almost wonder if Marshall, somewhere in his mind, believes himself to be performing these songs at the MGM Grand with an orchestra rather than in whatever room he’s in, accompanied by a small synth array and a silver-painted table. But, just like those Vegas crooners, that’s part of the act. “I never in my life thought I’d sell out the Crystal Ballroom,” Marshall said midway through, poking the bear that was the unhappy crowd. Just like the aforementioned Mimicking Birds, I was left wanting a smaller show from him, though I’d happily take many more sets just like this one, full of squelching bass and confused twentysomethings.

I’ll get the most unfortunate thing about Modest Mouse‘s weekend at the Crystal out of the way first: it felt, by the end of it, that I’d just watched to very unequal halves squished together. Taken as a whole, the band ran the gambit: 36 different songs from each record, with the only three songs played both nights (“Lampshades on Fire” and “Of Course We Know” from this year’s Strangers to Ourselves, as well as fan favorite “Dashboard” from We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank). Both nights, Isaac Brock was in fine form, rambling at full force in between songs and seeming genuinely happy to still be playing these songs. However, the first night was the weaker of the two, with the energy of the show coming to a grinding halt between what seemed like every single song – or at least, that’s how it felt – while Brock rambled about the heat, cats, the length of their encore break (roughly 8 minutes both nights). And, while that set got an appearance by the unretired ol’ chestnut “Float On” (which, to its credit, sounded hungrier and more ferocious than it has any right to be) and gems like “Grey Ice Water“, “Shit Luck“, and “Night on the Sun“, the set was a lot like their set at MusicFest Northwest earlier this year: standard in a lot of ways.

Perhaps the biggest issue was that the band seemed to have organized the two nights as though it was one giant show. Ending the first night with the loud, bizarro Lonesome Crowded West cut “Shit Luck” felt like foreshadowing for the deep-cut-heavy, Isaac-Brock-rant-light second show – a show which, if I’m being honest, is the best Modest Mouse show I’ve seen yet. To pick a highlight for this one almost feels impossible: was it the long-dormant gem “Bankrupt on Selling“? (Spoiler: yes, it was, and it reduced me to tears) Was it belting out “Talking Shit About a Pretty Sunset” arm-in-arm with a stranger next to me? Was it finally getting to see Good News banger “Bury Me With It“? (Also probably this one, really) Was it the fact that they played standard show-closer “The Good Times Are Killing Me” and then two more songs, including “Never Ending Math Equation? Truly, the only actual dud of the evening was Strangers cut “Pistol“, a song that is truly worse than even the half-baked Dial-A-Songs from rarities collection Sad Sappy Sucker. That can be forgiven, though.

All of this said, the setlists and the amount of rambling was the only place where the sets differed. 20+ years is a long time for a band to maintain momentum, and the gap between We Were Dead and Strangers likely served to keep the band feeling fresh. At this point, Brock and drummer Jeremiah Green are the only remaining founding members of the band, but the strengths of a band’s hired guns (for lack of a better term) is dependent on the strengths of those there from the beginning. It’s a testament to the power of the band as a live act that even the stale “Float On” could be made to sound as ferocious as “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes“, but even after a half-dozen shows in four years, I’m still consistently floored by the live arm of Modest Mouse. They are, at once, one of the most tight, and most unwound, live acts I’ve ever seen. The band is past the days of Brock slicing his arm open or fighting fans or ranting about “Freebird” (okay, maybe they’re still there, but still!), and now what remains is a group of weirdos led by a man who is equal parts affable and curmudgeonly.

While walking out of the Ballroom sunday night, I wondered to myself if I ever really needed to see Modest Mouse again after that two-day stint. And, despite the oversaturation I’ve experienced in the last week while prepping for the shows – an oversaturation I haven’t felt since I was 13 in rural Washington, imagining Isaac Brock feeling like I did just two towns over – I can say, without hesitation, absolutely. Their strengths are great enough that I’ll happily turn out any chance I get, and even if a show feels like a dud, it’s still likely to be a satisfying performance.

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Episode 100: Our Hundredth Episode!

100 021 - Copy

This week is just us, but thank YOU for listening to us for two years and 100 episodes! You can listen to this MEGA-SIZED episode above, or download it right here.

Topic:

  • One hundred episodes!
  • We look back on the last 99 episodes of Faces on the Radio, the things we loved, the things that make us do what we do, and the things you can expect from the next 100 episodes.
  • PLUS: We give our advice to anybody looking to get into podcasting (or into a creative project in general).

Songs:

  • Kendrick Lamar – “i”
  • David Byrne & St. Vincent – “Who”
  • The Mountain Goats – “Estate Sale Sign”
  • Gordon Lightfoot – “Early Morning Rain

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Episode 99: Project Pabst

Many thanks to Max Bauske for joining us this week! You can listen to this episode above, or download it right here.

Topic:

  • Project Pabst!
  • Where did this festival come from? What is its purpose?
  • When did this festival enter the planning stage?
  • What bands are we most excited to see?
  • Does Portland “need” another festival?

Songs:

  • Guided By Voices – “I Am a Scientist”
  • GZA – “Liquid Swords”
  • Built to Spill – “Big Dipper”
  • Aphex Twin – “180db_”

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Episode 81: MusicFest Northwest 2014!

Many, many thanks to Trevor Solomon for joining us this week! You can listen above, or download the episode here.

Topic:

  • MusicFest Northwest 2014: What do we think of the lineup?
  • How did this year’s lineup come to be? Why did the format of the festival change?
  • What are some of the criticisms that have come out so far – and how much of the criticism is valid?
  • What bands were on the wish list for this year’s lineup?
  • What will the festival look like in person?

Songs:

  • March Fourth Marching Band – “Train Blazers Theme”
  • Spoon – “Plastic Mylar”
  • Future Islands – “Tin Man”
  • Stephen Stills – “4+20”

Bands:

  • Tokyo Police Club
  • Geographer
  • Franz Ferdinand
  • Richie Havens
  • Jay Reatard
  • Johnny Marr / The Smiths
  • Love & Caring
  • Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  • Grizzly Business
  • Levon’s Helmet
  • Keb’ Mo’
  • Johnny Clegg
  • Peter Gabriel
  • Paul Simon
  • Led Zepagain
  • Isaac Brock / Modest Mouse
  • Survival Knife
  • Thurston Moore / Sonic Youth
  • Your Rival
  • Peter Buck
  • Corin Tucker / Super-Earth
  • Scott McCaughey
  • Adam Brock 4
  • Britt Daniel / Spoon
  • Girl Talk
  • Pantogram
  • Run The Jewels
  • HAIM
  • Tune-Yards
  • Future Islands
  • Fucked Up
  • The Antlers
  • Man Man
  • Pink Mountaintops
  • Gardens & Villa
  • Thundercat
  • EMA
  • Shy Girls
  • Modern Kin
  • The Districts
  • Landlady
  • OutKast
  • Rocket From The Crypt
  • Reigning Sound
  • Sleep
  • Dillinger Four
  • Weed
  • Reviver
  • Deerhunter
  • Chvrches
  • The Head & The Heart
  • Neko Case
  • Mumford & Sons
  • Fugazi
  • The Replacements
  • Husker Du
  • Cat Power
  • The Hold Steady
  • White Denim
  • Lord Huron
  • The National
  • Animal Collective
  • Superchunk
  • Ty Segall
  • Bob Dylan
  • Sloths
  • U SCO
  • Desert of Hiatus
  • Michael Nesmith
  • Sarah Jarosz
  • Stephen Stills
  • Russian Circles
  • Witch Mountain
  • Gaytheist
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REVIEW: Johnny Marr – The Messenger

Close the door and have a seat. I need to get something off my chest. Can you keep a secret?

I never got into The Smiths as much as I should have. I’ve listened to all of their music, and while I think that Morrissey is a dirtbag a lot of the time, I think he’s one of the most talented musicians we’ve ever had. I think that the combination of Morrissey and Marr is completely unbeatable combination, but I never found the same love for their seminal band that everyone else did. Don’t hate me, okay? I’ve never really tried too hard to hide it, but I never really came out and said it, you know?

Still, whenever either Morrissey or Marr do anything, my ears perk up. While Morrissey immediately started working for himself after the dissolving of The Smiths, Marr became a chameleon, working with everyone from The Cribs to Modest Mouse to Paul McCartney, he’s made no small name for himself working in the background, save for the one thing he ever truly stamped his name on, Johnny Marr + The Healers. But, true to his nature, he decided it was about time to make a solo record, and just not make a very big fuss about it at all. There’s something to be said about those actions, considering Marr borders on a household name, but I, personally, wouldn’t have it any other way.

The biggest issue with The Messenger is that Marr has spent more time in the background than he has in the foreground, and it has basically made it an uphill battle to define himself outside of the music he’s made for other people in the past. You hear it immediately, and it’s hard to truly connect with at times, especially because there are a fair few stylistic shifts, the most notable of which being the album’s title track, with its glam rock leanings and it simplistic lyrics: “Your eyes are open and you’re on / I’m here and I’m ready / My time’s for taking if you want Who wants to be a messenger?” Really, if you came for the lyrics in general, you may be a tad disappointed; while the words are good, they’re definitely nothing to write home about. The harsh reality is, if this album had come out at the top of his post-Smiths career, it would have been hailed as a classic, but it may have come a couple decades too late.

But that’s just the bad news. The good news is that the album is loaded with truly great stuff, too. Go listen to “Generate! Generate!” and tell me that you don’t want to dance in your chair and pump your fist in the air along with the song (spoiler alert: it’s not quite possible, and you probably look as silly as I do). Take the aforementioned shiny little title-track, “The Messenger”, for example: for its simplicity, it packs a wollop as a flat-out wonderful song, and likely one of the best ear-worms I’ve heard in months. It’s easy to miss, but you hear a lot of the influences of his old bands all over the record, and it really works well in a lot of places.

The real question is this: is The Messenger a good record? It is, without question. The problem is that it never stops being good, so that it can start being great. There’s a lot to love about it, and for a lot of people, this is going to be on repeat for months and months. It’s going to take some time for Marr to find his own footing as a solo artist, and when that day comes, he’s going to blow everyone else out of the water. I hate to say it, but at this moment in time, he’s missed the mark.

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Modest Mouse: I’m Angry That I’m So Damn Angry

Isaac Brock was born in 1975 in Helena, Montana. When he was 11, he moved to a small town in Washington, called Issaquah, which is famous for little more than its salmon hatchery. In 1993, he formed a band with his friends, like every 18-year-old dreams of doing, and remarkably, that band stuck around for a good long time. To date, Modest Mouse has put out five records, six EPs, and two rarities compilations. They’re also pretty famous for one of the best songs that you’re supposed to be ashamed that you like, “Float On,” which proved to be an incredible, super-massive hit for the band, over a decade into their career. However, if you are reading this, chances are you didn’t need any of that info because you already knew it, and have read the book, and know the songs, and own all of those recordings (except for the Interstate 8 EP, which you probably consider to be a white whale).

I was born in Seattle in 1990, and lived in and around it until I was 4, when we moved to Ravensdale, WA. We lived there for  nine years, until we moved to the nearby town of Maple Valley, which was better, in that if there was a power outage, it was taken care of that day rather than that week. All of this is significant to this story because, as I learned midway through my obsession with their fourth album, Good News for People Who Love Bad News, I learned that Isaac Brock was from the small town located just 15 miles from where I lived then. We’ll come back to this in a bit.

My musical taste up until 2004 was checkered, to say the very least. I went through phases that gravitated around what was on the Top 40 charts at the time (this swung from an undying obsession with the Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys, to the same passion and obsession with the artists on the 8 Mile soundtrack, until my father discovered just how profane Obie Trice could be with the song “Adrenaline Rush”). Then, one day, I discovered the local “alternative” station, 107.7 The End, and its wealth of angsty, bitter songs that I had never, ever heard. I heard “Undone (The Sweater Song)” and “Black Hole Sun” and “Add It Up” for the first time, listening to the station on the portable CD player/FM tuner I carried around with me (a very old sentence, when you think about it) while in summer school. It was around this time that I needed songs like “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” the most.

I was a great student until the 6th grade. Until then, I was the best speller in the class, which was my only claim to fame. I was a social outcast, and really only had one good friend, so I found solace in learning. When the 6th grade rolled around, I began to take stock of my life, and the things around me: my father was abusive, and my parents, who fought constantly at this point, had decided to divorce. We were being forced to move out of my childhood home, and I didn’t really have anybody to share any of this pre-adolescent angst with. As a 22-year-old, I have yet to fully recover from those formative years, but something in the music I heard in those years kept me sane, and most importantly, changed me into something different entirely.

I heard “Float On” on that CD player, and I was immediately take by its jangly guitars and its despite-everything-optimism, to the point that I forced my mother to buy me that CD. I took it with me for a late-night walk on the trail near the apartment we had moved into, and began to take it in. The batteries died partway through, and I still remember where: halfway through “Bukowski,” just around the line “I can’t make it to your wedding, but I’m sure that I’ll be at your wake.” The words on that album grabbed onto me, hard. I learned later on that most Modest Mouse fans felt a decent amount of distaste for the pop sensibilities that their favorite musical outcast had adopted, but for the 14-year-old listening to those words, it was absolutely perfect. Modest Mouse was the first Mature Band that I ever really clicked with in that way (I bought the White Stripes album Elephant the year before that, but it never resonated in the same way, at least not until I was much older), and they inspired me to buy my first copy of Rolling Stone, specifically for an interview with Isaac Brock (for those wondering, the cover story was an interview with Doonesbury writer Garry Trudeau). This was a period with a lot of firsts.

Good News isn’t my go-to record anymore, even in the Modest Mouse catalog. As I worked my way backwards in the band’s music, I found a lot darker things to grab onto in my teenage angst, having abandoned the ability to really take solace in the pop songs on that record. It is not a bad record, by any means: “The World At Large” is one of my favorite songs, and “Bury Me With It,” “Dance Hall,” “Bukowski,” and “This Devil’s Workday” got me through a lot of tough times, being in my room, screaming the words at the top of my lungs. I remember my mother’s perplexed and disapproving looks the first time she heard the line “I JUST DON’T NEED NONE OF THAT MAD MAX BULLSHIT!!” and how equally perplexed she was when I nailed the high part on “Ocean Breathes Salty.” It may not be my favorite Modest Mouse record, but for what it’s worth, it is the one I love the most.

Listening to that CD player, I heard the Muse song “Time Is Running Out.” You know the one. It’s the one with the really killer bassline at the beginning, and the snaps. I loved that song, and under pressure from my friend (who I don’t even remember, now that I write this), I went to buy Absolution. Standing in the Target CD section, I found the album, and continued to browse. There, I found the cash-grab remastered edition of The Moon & Antarctica, the Modest Mouse record that had come out four years prior. “You can only get one,” my mother told me. So I made a choice that, now that I’m older, means that I am a completely different person. I realized this recently, that the months I spent obsessing could have been with a completely different record by a completely different band, one that valued sheen and hooks over content. And, considering my More-Alternative-Than-Thou brain, those are the values that would likely have stuck. There was a fork in the road, and I went left.

I got the album home and gave it a listen. The first thing you notice, hearing that album after Good News, is that those are two albums made by two different bands. “Everything that keeps me together is falling apart,” Brock sings right off the bat in “Third Planet,” “I got this thing that I consider my only art, of fucking people over.” “Third Planet” and “Gravity Rides Everything” are undoubtedly beautiful songs, and hearing them serves as a palette cleanser, leaving you fresh for the songs that come after it. The Moon & Antarctica is an album that helps you reexamine the tenants of loneliness and isolation: “The Cold Part” plays like a suicide note from a man who has chosen to set himself adrift on a chunk of ice, and “Lives” is that man’s eulogy: “You were the dull sounds of sharp math when you were alive / no one’s gonna play the harp when you die.” That descent is slow creeping, giving us little reprieve as you inch your way down (“Wild Pack of Family Dogs,” “Paper Thin Walls,” and “I Came As A Rat” always seemed so misplaced, but when you think about it, they’re wholly necessary as a way to turn back and glimpse the light before going any deeper), until the clanging finale, “What People Are Made Of.”

One of the things you notice on your first listen through is the stray lines that are so impeccably written, and it was one of these that flipped a switch in my head: “Well you cocked your head, to shoot me down / and I don’t give a damn about you or this town no more.” I knew that Brock was from a place so close to me before this, but hearing that line made me realize something very, very powerful: you don’t have to like anything about your upbringing. You’re allowed to hate where you live, who your parents are, what their values are, and the stupid grins of the people who don’t see who you are on the inside. In that line, he made it okay to rebel against things, and make your own life out of the weeds. He made me okay with my disdain for my parents’ divorce, and my father’s anger, and the looming threat of money troubles, and the fact that I had to move to Oregon soon because my grandfather was dying of cancer slowly, uprooting everything I had grown to know, even if it was everything I had grown to hate. In those words, he taught me it was okay because he knew what that was like. The musicians I had listened to for my 14 years leading up to this didn’t prepare me as an emotional being: they just wanted to tell a sk8r boi “see ya l8r boi,” rather than give my heart and soul a steady footing. And who could blame them? Eminem was a savior to a lot of kids, but I was a kid with emotional eating issues from a mossy mountain town in Washington, I was never going to be able to learn to rap my way out of that. I wasn’t going to be able to take part in five-part harmonies to get out of it, either, like the well-groomed Backstreet Boys (or the varied-in-their-grooming Spice Girls). What my savior taught me was that the best way out was to scream about it, and hammer on a guitar until your fingers bled.

Earlier this year, several hours after a horrendous attempt to remove a kidney stone (because I am 46, apparently), I had the pleasure of going to a fundraiser where Isaac Brock was performing. Right off the bat, he played “Trailer Trash,” a song off of The Lonesome Crowded West (An album I love, but one I won’t get into in this already very long essay). If you don’t know the song, look up the lyrics, because I can’t quote a single line from it without quoting the entire thing. It was incredibly moving, especially because I watched him perform it maybe three feet in front of me. After he was done playing, I took the opportunity to tell him about the impact he’d had on my life, and how his music kept me alive for those years when it felt like the world was against me. He thanked me for my story, seeming taken aback by it. We stood around outside, talking and smoking, and before leaving I shook his hand, and my friend gave him a fist bump. Brock made fun of him for it. I told him, “I’m worse, I’m a hugger.” “Yeah, that is way worse,” he said, right before demanding that I give him a hug. In hindsight, it seems impossible to me that I kept my composure throughout all of this.

I still live about 15 miles away from Isaac Brock, and his music is still an incredibly powerful force in my life, even though I don’t listen to those records as much anymore. I have a son of my own, and I’m going to make sure he never needs a musician to keep him alive. But when I was young, confused, and alone, that band did that for me. The music was my religion, and Isaac Brock was the best savior possible for a kid like me, even though (or especially because) he was so bitter.

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