The members of Modest Mouse
need not make a new year’s resolution. In 2004 the band unwittingly courted two distinct audiences following the release of Good News for People Who Love Bad News
, the follow-up to The Moon and Antarctica
. By the end of the year, the indie-rock community gave a nod of approval when the band was invited to curate the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in L.A., while the mainstream music industry upped the ante with two Grammy nominations. In case the band needed any additional reinforcement, record and ticket sales continue to reverberate within the halls of Epic, as if to say, “Don’t change a thing.”
So somewhere between ATP and the Grammy announcements, Modest Mouse blew up. And if someone told me that my first Modest Mouse show was to assume even a vague connection with the SEC, I would have carpet bagged it North as quickly as possible. So, with mixed feelings, I find myself at Vanderbilt University’s Memorial Gym for the school’s first annual Commodores Care Concert, surrounded by a couple thousand neighbors, and plenty of uncomfortable bleachers to boot.
The packed stadium floor and two-tiered balcony are a microcosm of Modest Mouse’s current following. The generally conservative, wealthy Vanderbilt student body has made an incredibly strong, and unarguably conspicuous showing. Yet, for every several rows of prep-schoolers in attendance there are a handful of scenesters. Each group has different expectations for the night—long-time listeners hoping for a show to rival those of yesteryear, and newcomers clamoring for a dance party capped by the band’s mega-hit “Float On.”
After a brief introduction by a member of the Vanderbilt student body, Modest Mouse files onstage to the deafening screams of thousands of fans. Half shocked, half in awe, I sit back, ready to see how this strange concert scene will play out. The band begins dynamically with “Paper Thin Walls” from The Moon and Antarctica, and the crowd dances in approval. Next comes “Black Cadillacs” with frontman Isaac Brock maintaining his contagious erraticism, and bassist Eric Judy offering up his part with surgeon-like precision. Four songs in, the band performs an evocative version of “Satin in a Coffin” aided by the sonorous triune of upright bass, banjo and organ. The band pleases old fans by performing a spine-tingling version of “Doin the Cockroach,” complete with Brock’s infamous scream into his guitar. A densely textured version of “Trailer Trash,” brimming with feedback and primal musicianship, caps the band’s set.
For the encore, Modest Mouse strolls effortlessly through “World at Large.” The band ends with a haunting version of “Cowboy Dan,” where a chain gang aesthetic segues into an aurally arresting climax. To my surprise, the night wasn’t about a band juggling disparate followings. More than anything it was a celebration. Modest Mouse has been paying its dues in smoky, beer-soaked indie clubs for over 10 years, and it was high time the band had chance to bring its raucous live sets to a larger audience.