Modest Mouse at The Helix – Review
Fresh from releasing their first album in eight years, Modest Mouse played in the unusual venue of the Helix Theatre.
Some sort of swarming bee noise plays before the band emerge on stage, and there is a lot of people to emerge. There’s a core group of seven or so members, with at least two lurking in the shadows; and this makes for an enormous sound. ‘Of Course We Know’ is the opener, and the drums in particular pack a serious punch. With two drummers playing full kits, and another musician playing various percussion instruments, the rhythm section is full of complex rhythms that generate a huge sound. New tracks dominate this early part, with ‘Lampshades On Fire’ and ‘Sugar Boats’ impressing, and with so many musicians on stage, the music is wonderfully layered and full sounding.
‘Dramamine’, with its intoxicating bassline channels, a unique atmosphere that the band are able to hold for some time, stretching the tune out well beyond the limits of the studio version. The band’s first two albums were recorded as a three-piece, so it’s no surprise that ‘Dramamine’ is the only tune from this period of the band’s career, and even then it is changed significantly to incorporate the much more nuanced sound Modest Mouse employ these days.
Most songs end up stretching out into long jam sections, and while this is an integral part of the Modest Mouse sound, they sometimes miss the mark. ‘Tiny Cities Made Of Ashes’ devolves into a very strange song, with the groovy bassline that drives the main part of the song disappearing in the extended section and this causes the track to become a bit directionless.
These most exciting moments come when Isaac Brock picks up the banjo. This adds a whole new level of quirkiness and weirdness, and quirky and weird is what Modest Mouse do best. ‘Dig Your Grave’ and ‘Satin In A Coffin,’ so-so tracks on record, are transformed into set highlights by the frantic banjo playing, backed of course with plenty of power from the extensive band. The banjo comes back for ‘King Rat’, another stunner, but frustratingly the band cut out the long outro section. When the band were adding extra parts to song all night, it was quite irritating for this lengthy tune to be cut short.
While a large band make for a huge sound, it also can be hard to direct such a big group. Large silences dominate in-between songs, and Brock’s barely audible mutterings about privileged college students are a bit bewildering. This is topped off by an enormous fifteen minute break before the encore, and it really does seem that the band exist in a little bubble where they move at their own pace. Perhaps an eight year wait for an album wasn’t so surprising.
The encore is worth the wait with a spirited performance of new single ‘Ground Walks With Time In A Box,’ but it’s the slower, more relaxed tunes that delight during this section of the show. ‘Gravity Rides Everything’ drifts along with a beautiful ease, and ‘The World At Large’ is nurtured from two lonely guitar notes to a massive crescendo that ends the show in style.
Modest Mouse may frustrate at times with a number of annoying habits; long gaps between songs and pointlessly long jams are infuriating, but ultimately the band have more than enough quality to shine through.
Review by Finn O’Reilly