On Sunday night, I joined a friend of mine on a seat-of-our-pants road trip to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to see a quietly promoted warm-up gig for Modest Mouse before the band kicked off its big spring tour in support of its fantastic new album, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank.
According to Tickets.com, who were the online sellers for tickets to this show, no more seats were available when I checked on Thursday night. A few phone calls placed to area record stores told me that the website's claims were dubious. My friend and I, fueled by the freedom afforded him by the loss of his job that Friday, decided that, if nothing else, we were going to drive to South Dakota and enjoy a nice dinner before turning around and driving back.
Once we'd burned a few hundred miles of road and made our way to the Ramkota Exhibit Hall, I began to realize that our worries about finding tickets were for nothing. When we arrived 2 hours before show time, we not only managed to find a parking space 20 feet from the main doors, but only three teenagers were camping outside. Even after leaving Omaha 3 hours later than we'd originally planned, my friend and I had arrived way too early.
Still, the box office was not open. As showtime neared, there was a line of a few hundred people snaking around the outside, into the parking lot. While my friend and I argued about whether or not we should join the line, we soon found out that the line was for the poor bastards who already had tickets, but were experiencing a clusterfuck at the box office. My friend and I walked inside, bought our tickets, and were back out at the hotel bar within 3 minutes. The people who had prepared in advance would spend hours in that line, while dickheads like us who just showed up on a whim were let right inside.
Since I had entertained no thought of actually getting into the show, I was suddenly and excitedly realizing the dream of seeing the new Modest Mouse, featuring the additional gutiar skills of The Smiths' Johnny Marr.
I thought about how bizarre the situation had become. If you had told me a decade before that this dissonant, noisy indie band I loved called Modest Mouse would even have so much as a single mainstream radio hit, I would have told you to fuck off. Think about it. . . the same band that started by recording songs like "Dirty Fingernails" are now being featured on American Idol:
Come on, that's just ridiculous. Imagine what it must be like to be MM's Isaac Brock. One day you're fronting your little indie band, slowly selling more records and gathering an audience, and then one day THE GUITARIST FOR THE SMITHS IS IN YOUR BAND. I wouldn't even know what to do.
If you're Brock, you put him to good use, wailing away in your 6-piece band with two drummers and a multi-instrumentalist who looks like Hugh Laurie from "House." Marr fit right in, and it makes sense when you think about Modest Mouse's music, which is driven by the same strange angular riffs that Marr made famous in The Smiths. And really, who else can Brock thank for long song or album titles like Good News for People Who Love Bad News if not The Smiths?
The show was incredible, featuring a mix of mostly new (from the last 3 records) stuff and the occasional classic like "Trailer Trash" or "Doin' the Cockroach." The audience even got to see Brock's semi-psychotic side when limply tossed glass bottle hit the stage, leading the frontman to threaten more than once, "I WILL KILL YOU."
The set covered a lot of ground with a lot of varied instrumentation (the banjo and stand up bass even came out for "Bukowski"), but the band were at their peak when hitting the dance rock grooves with the disco basslines in songs like "Tiny Cities Made of Ashes." Brock's voice roared, the band was a cacophany of sound and the crowd began pogoing like a Justin Timberlake concert. When you can make the complacent indie rockers dance, you've really accomplished something. Even if your first band was The Smiths.
Tonight, a little mix CD of some of my favorite Modest Mouse songs. This was a bitch to assemble, since some of my favorite songs (hits like "Ocean Breathes Salty") had to hit the cutting room floor. Regardless, I think this is a fine introduction to one of my favorite bands. I encourage you to find all of their records, but for now:
1. Here it Comes
2. Never Ending Math Equation
4. Convenient Parking
6. Blame it On the Tetons
7. Cowboy Dan
8. Steam Engenius
9. Paper Thin Walls
12. Dark Center of the Universe
14. Night on the Sun
15. Third Planet (live)
Cowboy Dan (Demo)
Cat Faces (from the Isaac Brock solo project/album, Ugly Cassanova)
South of Heaven (an acoustic Slayer cover by Modest Mouse and Califone)
Four Fingered Fisherman (live MM cover by Sun Kil Moon frontman Mark Kozelek)
- Order Modest Mouse CDs, LPs and more at Insound.com
- The band's homepage is right here, or apparently right here as well.