Modest Mouse amazes Mesa

By Michael Petitti
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, February 17, 2005

Good live music is something that should never be taken for granted. Modest Mouse makes good live music, and the band drilled the point home with a spectacular performance during Tuesday night's sold-out show at Mesa Amphitheatre.

With the sky overcast and the crowd restless, Modest Mouse immediately set the bar high with the opening strained chords of "Dramamine." The song's swirling guitars and loud-to-soft movements were deftly performed by Isaac Brock and his merry crew of talented musicians.

Throughout the show, Brock (historically an unsteady live performer, aka drunk performer) conducted the band, including an additional percussionist and backup singer/upright bass player, with as much passion as he put into performing.

Brock never let his role as taskmaster interfere with the music. Brock choked and strangled every note from his banjo for the duo of folk-inspired numbers "Satin in a Coffin" and "Bukowski" from recent release Good News For People Who Love Bad News. As he fought to amplify the tiny instrument's sound throughout the venue, the rest of the band backed him through the creepy dirges.

Even longtime fans, who have bemoaned the omissions of old favorites from the band's live shows, got their fill with a double dose of "Out of Gas" and "Trailer Trash" from seminal indie release The Lonesome Crowded West. The songs found the band tight as ever with Eric Judy skillfully thumping his bass along with Jeremiah Green's spine-snapping drumming.

Going from song to song, the band barely took a break and the banter was minimal. Brock did briefly mention their Phoenix show this past summer: "We played that rotisserie thing (Celebrity Theatre's revolving stage)."

However, when they aimed to elevate the crowd, blazers like "Doin' the Cockroach" and "The View" proved formidable avenues. Both songs raced through their snappy beats and shrieking guitars with guitarist/keyboardist Dann Gallucci proving himself an ideal musical complement to Brock.

The main set's true highlight was the earthy, collective effort of "The Good Times Are Killing Me." The band had three stagehands join them, playing various percussions, to create a nice atmospheric mid-tempo lament. With nine people on stage and the potential for miscues increased, the song came off without a hitch. Brock took turns singing the remorseful tune between his microphone and CB Radio microphone and such introspection never sounded sweeter.

The encore found Brock at the piano for a particularly touching performance of the soul-searching "World at Large." The song floated through the air on the backing "da, da, da" vocals and Green's rhythmic kick drum.

When the mist cleared and the next song was set to begin, Brock and bandmates tested the waters of improvisation. Remaining on the piano, Brock and Green started into the improvisation while other members slowly added themselves into the mix. The song sounded more Sigur Rós than Modest Mouse, but proved the band adept at accomplishing any task live.

Next was the highlight of the evening, when "Tiny Cities Made of Ashes," from The Moon and Antarctica, made a funky and loud appearance. As Judy's bass thumped through the venue the song rolled and hissed through its disco-sludge beats. With Brock and three others singing the chorus the song lifted from its murky roots into something ethereal and immaculate.

The band ended their encore with a blistering version of "Bury Me with It" and a poignant "Bankrupt on Selling." The band then left the stage with the audience wanting more. Good live music will do that.