Fired Up at the Orpheum: Desiree Weber reviews Modest Mouse

Modest Mouse December 3, 2007 The Orpheum Theater Better Than: God's Shoeshine.

Modest Mouse took the stage Monday night at the Orpheum, the hotly anticipated Minneapolis stop on their We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank tour. Some fans in the crowd were undoubtedly there last April when a show was canceled. Luckily for them and everyone else, it was clear that Isaac Brock and his merry men meant business from the first moments of 'Satin in a Coffin.' And just in case the sounds of Johnny Marr's guitar, Jeremiah Green’s drums and Brock's voice weren’t enough to fill the Orpheum, they brought two drummers instead of one.

I saw them in Cleveland in August, when Band of Horses opened for them, and I was curious to see if my impressions would hold true in a vastly different venue. The sound, which could not have been worse in Cleveland, was loud and at times unrelenting, but overall the effect was amazing. Brock’s banjo parts on 'Satin' and 'Bukowski' seemed to be the only excuses for the volume to be turned from the usual 11 down to 10. Overall, even the more subdued parts on the new album, like the first three minutes of 'Fire It Up,' ended up less the jangly guitar that Modest Mouse is known for and more a wall of sound. An awesome wall, however. 'Paper Thin Walls,' a gem from their opus The Moon & Antarctica, was an excellent balance of the intimate vocal style and instrumentation of yesteryear, and the ramped up sound of the last two albums. Two hits from their current album followed ('Dashboard' and 'Education'); both were boisterous enough to get even the controlled Isaac to join Johnny Marr in bopping around and singing his heart out.

Sidestepping the question of whether Modest Mouse are "sellouts" or not, I will say that the bigger label has meant a bigger crowd and a bigger sound, but bigger is not better in all instances. I think the concert experience would have been helped if the arrangements had varied more depending on the song. A slow stunner like 'Trailer Trash' deserves a different treatment than an anthem like 'Dashboard.' Instead, the breakout guitar crescendo that usually happens only 3 minutes into the song was almost swallowed by the already established volume. Part of what makes songs like 'Tiny Cities Made of Ashes' work so well is how Isaac manages to be menacing and subtle at the same time, with muscular drumming providing the rhythmic backbone to his low growl.

That being said, the undeniable energy of the show was catching. Fans even in the balcony were on their feet, or at the very least, bouncing in their seats. -- Desiree Weber

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