Live Review: Modest Mouse with Mimicking Birds at the Paramount Theatre 8/25

Live Reviews
Jacob Webb
photos by Matthew B. Thompson (view set)

For longtime followers of the band, it's a little strange that Modest Mouse has now spent more time as a big-name ticket than a scrappy indie rock band from Issaquah, but in retrospect, the band's current status goes along with Modest Mouse's singular trajectory. Although many would label them with the "indie rock" tag, they've been a major label far longer than they were on an indie. (To put it gently, frontman Isaac Brock is not even a fan of the latter.) Their lineup has reshuffled plenty of times (and then a few more), but the band's core spirit stayed intact throughout all of it. Most tellingly, either despite or because of Isaac Brock's unique, twisting, contemplative songwriting ended up resulting in one of the most enduring rock songs of the 2000s, which was not one of his many odes to existential dread, but a sort-of reflexive ode to carrying on in the face of uncertainty. In short, Modest Mouse are near the top of the list of unexpected survivors of the 2000s independent rock saga. They had just enough radio pull to keep them on the road, just enough of a catalog to draw widely from during the tours where they didn't have an album to promote, and, post-2004, enough of a good reputation as a live band to stay vital in between their increasingly long gaps between releases. But the band and its songs perservered, and during a hometown-ish run that included a festival headlining set in Portland and a two-night stand at Seattle's Paramount Theatre, Brock and co. confirmed that the tale of Modest Mouse is both still interesting and far from over.

Opening the night was Mimicking Birds, whose languid, shimmering set ultimately served as a sharp contrast to the headliners. The Portland band's sense of rhythm and pace carries their music, with guitars agily winding around singer Nate Lacy's whispery vocals. As their last album, 2014's Eons, and their most recent single, "Dead Weight", underscored, the band's ability to create elliptical, wandering soundscapes remains intact, and in a venue as rich-sounding and expansive as the Paramount, the songs couldn't have had a better setting. Gauzy but never too loud to drown out the nuance of their guitars, the band was at the end of a West Coast run with Modest Mouse and just ahead of a longer summer tour across the United States, and judging from the agility of their opening slot, they'd shaken off the dust well before they hit the stage.

Brock was in a good mood on Tuesday night, if for no other reason than knowing Modest Mouse were getting the chance to stretch out their catalog over two nights. Modest Mouse's catalog is far deeper than most bands of their era – in their first decade or so, they put out four albums, six EPs, and two compilations – and now arranged as an octet, they've got more manpower to recreate any number of songs with new arrangements on any given night. The first night of the stand leaned more away from the hits and live staples that the band has been airing out on the summer festival circuit, but the second night didn't shy away from those stalwarts, all delivered with gusto by the band and an especially vibrant Brock. (It's no surprise that he's as garroulous as his lyrics imply, but for a guy who spent two hours talking about how life will kill you, he seemed pretty cheerful.) Across ninety minutes, Modest Mouse hit almost all of the tracks one would expect to be included on their eventual greatest hits record: "Ocean Breathes Salty", "Dashboard", "Doin' The Cockroach", "Dramamine", "Gravity Rides Everything", and "Lampshades on Fire" were among the night's more anthemic ("anthemic" being relative to Modest Mouse, of course) moments. Even more notable was than the hits' airings was the emphatic fury the band played them with. In all of Modest Mouse's lineups, the current membership very well might be the band's heaviest iteration to date. In addition to the band's typical dual-drummer setup, they've got an auxiliary percussionist, two (or three, depending on the song) guitarists, a bassist, and a violin player (Lisa Molinaro, who turned out to be the band's secret weapon more than once). When you've got that many musicians onstage, it's hard to not produce a powerful, immersive sound (just ask Broken Social Scene or Godspeed You! Black Emporer), but everyone in the current lineup of Modest Mouse isn't just loud, they're dynamic. Whether it was loud ("Dark Center of the Universe") or quiet ("The World At Large"), any given performance had a considerable depth, the guitars intertwining with more agility, the gang vocals more thunderous, the drums – as usual – more insistent and sharp. Having a large lineup can often add force to a band's performance, but a venue's sound mix can often blunt its richness (festivals are especially bad for this). Fortunately, the Paramount is one of the better sounding venues in town, which allowed Modest Mouse's performance to be as deep and wide-ranging as their catalog.

Modest Mouse didn't kill the house lights after the end of the encore, and while it ended up being a tease, the prospect of a second encore was a tantalizing one. Maybe they'd go deeper into The Lonesome Crowded West (they were playing not too far from the hotel that's pictured on its cover). Or possibly even father back. Coversely, they could play another couple tunes from Strangers To Ourselves. Hell, maybe they even would've completed the set of hits and played "Float On". But this hypothetical ends up being the case in point for the argument that there might never be a better time to be a Modest Mouse fan at a Modest Mouse show. Isaac Brock has surrounded himself with musicians who can dive into his increasingly rich and still-diversifying catalog, and even if they were playing homecoming shows with a hits-packed setlist, the band's depth underscored that Modest Mouse currently don't sound or look anything like the laurel-resting heritage act they could be.

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