25 February 2009
Modest Mouse/Mimicking Birds/Japanese Motors @ The Marquee 2/25/2009
Although I arrived a little later than intended, I was surprised to see that the opening band, Japanese Motors, had started by the time I arrived. Presumably, they started just a few minutes prior as I saw them for nearly a half an hour. I seemed not to be alone though, as the crowd for this band was probably the smallest crowd I've ever seen at a sold out show at The Marquee. The band themselves were alright. Nothing really to set them apart from the mass of indie rock bands out there, 99% of which are mediocre at best, despite what all the indie kids will tell you. These guys fell into that mediocre category, as they weren't painful to listen to or anything, but nor did I or anyone else I saw really get into them at any point. Still, the music was fine for an opener.
Mimicking Birds were up next, and the mimicry was completely apparent; as with birds, the music was quite pretty, but overall it was quite boring to watch. I will, however, take a moment to note the one really interesting part of the band, the drummer. The drummer probably talked to the crowd (without a microphone) more than either guitarist did, and was highly energetic and charismatic. At the same time, he was the drummer, and you know your band's in trouble when the charisma on stage comes from the drummer. The music was also a bit mellow for the show I felt...I several times wondered why I was listening to "coffee shop music" at a rock music venue. Again, the crowd remained empty, and I began to wonder how on earth this show was sold out.
As the stage was set up for Modest Mouse, I began to grow even more dubious, as a massive assortment of instruments found their way on stage including two drumsets, a stand up bass (I think), guitars galore, keyboards, 4 vocal mics, and so much more. The Modest Mouse I remembered had 3 or 4 members, not 7 or 8. If I were to name my top 5 musical pet peeves, among them there would be indie rock bands pretending to be able to play instruments they can't actually play for show value or to be cool or whatever, and also bands that record music that they can't play live without doubling the size of the band, yet not sounding any better than when they were just the original band. Thus, Modest Mouse seemed destined for complete failure in my eyes.
Modest Mouse wiped away all the doubts that had formed as a result of these early forays into the evening's music. By the time they hit the stage I had hit rather a foul mood myself, and was almost scowling as the band came on. Within minutes, I was dancing and having a great time, and glad I attended. What caused this transformation is not even apparent to me now, but I can only assume some positive energy poured out into the crowd from the music, because everyone was having a great time.
Normally, when a band plays songs you're not familiar with, you feel a little bit awkward and don't tend to enjoy the song so much as the ones you know by heart. But something that absolutely astonished me is that even with the songs I wasn't sure I'd heard, and certainly hadn't heard in a long time if I had, I was dancing and having fun the whole song through. The beat, the style, the music, it all blended together so well as to create a sort of environment of music that just made it impossible not to get swept up in it. The instruments that I had initially viewed as extraneous and cluttering were all so melded and, surprisingly, contributed a lot. The seemingly superfluous band members all played roles in developing this music environment which was unspeakably powerful. Besides the addition of instruments morphing the songs into entirely new pieces, Isaac's characteristic change of melody (or whatever it is he does along those lines) helped recreate just about every song played during the night, so that not once did I feel like I was just listening to the CD on great speakers and really loud. So few bands truly change their music live significantly from the recordings, but Modest Mouse is assuredly one of those bands.
The set list was also nothing to complain about. I had never been a fan of their latest CD, but, to the best of my ability to tell, they played very little from that album. In fact, I may be wrong, but the only song I recognized from it was the single, Dashboard. Aside from that, it was about 25% Good News and 25% Moon and Antarctica, and the rest from even older stuff. It was great. Rarely do such big bands neglect to play the new stuff in the interest of playing old stuff. In addition, whether people were fans of the band for the last decade or so (like me) or just new fans who happened to be familiar with the band's back catalog, I was absolutely shocked to hear the crowd singing along to the old songs even louder than the new ones. In fact, for me at least, the highlight of the show was Cities Made of Ashes. If that song doesn't sound 100 times better live than the already great sound they have on record, I'm a liar.
As I left the show, I felt a sort of euphoria. I can't remember the last show I was actually dancing at and screaming lyrics with the crowd, but it's been a long time. Lately I've gotten too old for that sort of thing, I feel. Whether it was just the nostalgia of when I knew this band's back catalog back and forward, or just the energy in the venue, tonight I felt years younger, and excited and energetic in a way I haven't felt since I was seeing Pop Punk bands with my friends in high school and early in college, while we sang all of the words along with the band. Easily one of the best musical experiences of my life.