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ISSUE 118 VOL 12 PUBLISHED 3/4/2005

Modest Mouse breaks barriers

By Peter Farrell
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 4, 2005

Modest Mouse albums are sold at Target for $9.99. “Float On,” “The Ocean Breathes Salty” and “The World at Large” are not only single – they’re hit singles. The readers of Spin Magazine voted Modest Mouse the “Best New Band” of 2004 (for those of you that don’t know, the definition of “new” has shifted to encompass four albums, five EPs and 11 years of touring).

Finally, Modest Mouse also now bears Seth Cohen’s (also known as Adam Brody’s) infamous stamp of hipster approval. The O.C. tastemaker featured the band on a recent episode of the show’s second season.

Nissan car commercials, Grammy nominations and hit music videos? Strange, to say the least, but inconsequential: Modest Mouse still put on one hell of a concert.

The first of two sold-out shows at the storied First Avenue this past Sunday reminded fans why Modest Mouse’s unexpected success is so deserved.

The night started off on a slightly offbeat note: in a strange repeat of last summer’s Modest Mouse concert, one of the two opening acts didn’t show. Cass McCombs – an indie-crooner from Baltimore, Md. – was nowhere to be found. Instead, hometown favorite Mason Jennings played a slightly extended set.

Jennings is the consummate professional; he rarely disappoints, nor does he exceed expectations. Sunday night was no exception. Jennings played an entertaining set consisting of older, folkier fan favorites and some harder-edged new material that showed surprising grit. The anxious crowd was polite, reserving their loudest cheers for Jennings’ frequent references to the glory of Minneapolis.

At around 8:40 p.m. Modest Mouse took the stage. Opening with a fierce rendition of “Black Cadillacs,” the band played a set that drew heavily upon 2004’s Good News For People Who Love Bad News.

Clearly, Modest Mouse knows their audience. High school kids engaging in full hero worship dominated the crowd, although that’s not to suggest the audience was unreceptive to older material. Rather, the crowd simply acknowledged that Good News For People Who Love Bad News is a barrier-breaking album. The ubiquitous “Float On” introduced many listeners to the larger world of indie rock, and the effect has been tangible. Indie rock is the new pop, and Modest Mouse lead singer Isaac Brock, along with Zach Braff (creator of the most glorified mix-tape of all time, the “Garden State” soundtrack) and Conor Oberst (also known as Bright Eyes) are largely responsible.

For his part, Brock played the stoic anti-hero for most of the set, rarely bantering with the audience or lifting his eyelids away from his fretboard. It hardly mattered, however.

Every lisp, yelp and frantic strum of his guitar was met with rapturous approval by his throng of young devotees. Brock may be unwilling to accept his ascension to rock stardom, but he scarcely has a say in the matter at this point: Modest Mouse mean something to their fans, and rightly so. High-powered versions of “The View,” “Satin in A Coffin” and “Bukowski” shook, while poppier material like “The Good Times Are Killing Me” devolved into a raucous, campfire-esque sing-along. A triple encore satiated older fans, treating the crowd to stellar renditions of earlier classics “Dramamine,” “Trailer Trash” and “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes.”

Modest Mouse no longer needs to be so modest. Their success is well deserved, and a little arrogance could go a long way.

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