Modest Mouse - Leeds 02 Academy - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Modest Mouse - Leeds 02 Academy

by Andy Brown Rating:7 Release Date:2011-11-30

Having released their debut album, This is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About, back in 1996, Washington’s Modest Mouse have been a staple of American indie-rock for some time now. Yet when the band re-emerged this year with Strangers to Ourselves, it marked the band’s first album in eight years.

After the group cancelled a 2013 UK tour to work on the album, fans have been eagerly awaiting the band's return. It seems like a long time since the heady days of Good News for People Who Love Bad News; could the band still cut it live or would that album title become cruelly prophetic?

With the Academy packed-out and the lights turned down, the show starts, a subtly atmospheric, slow slide into title track ‘Strangers to Ourselves’. The sound of thunder and rain fills the room as the admittedly downbeat intro looms over the Leeds audience. I hear someone comment that it seems like a strange choice for an opening song, but to these ears it’s ideal and pleasantly unexpected. The band follows this up with the slinky indie-funk of recent single ‘Lampshades on Fire’ and the band, to the crowds delight, has shifted into party mode.

The band has a pretty impressive set-up on stage. Lisa Molinaro weaves her violin through the songs indie-dancefloor pulse, Tom Peloso adds keyboards and the occasional trumpet flair, while ex-Grandaddy guitarist Jim Fairchild adds his considerable indie-guitar credentials to the band's back-catalogue. Long standing drummer Jeremiah Green is joined by a second drummer, although I somehow manage not to notice this until the encore.

To the left of the stage, the band has employed a kind of musical foley artist; a guy who uses everything from shakers to sheets of metal to add subtle, atmospheric touches to the bands set. With all this in mind, it’s frustrating that the sound at the Academy just isn’t quite right, elements seem to get lost in the mix to the point where Fairchild’s impassioned backing vocals aren’t audible at all. Some of the sound issues seem better when I move further back for the encore; the sound, a friend reassures me, always being better the closer you are to the sound desk.

The main draw of Modest Mouse for this writer has always been the gravel-like vocals of main-mouse Isaac Brock. There may have been a considerable gap since the band's last LP but Brocks vocals still sound like the ramblings of a drunken, cantankerous pirate. This is a good thing by the way.  

The band plays a set heavy with hits, or at least the poppier side to their repertoire. The likes of ‘Dashboard’ and the ever-wonderful ‘Float On’ are met with mass sing-alongs, smiles of recognition and some enthusiastic pogoing from the crowd. Yet while Modest Mouse clearly know their way around a decent single, it’s been the bands stranger, more idiosyncratic tracks that have given them their edge over the years. The set gets the crowd going yet doesn’t really represent the kind of diversity they’re capable of on record.

Having said this, there are some fantastic highlights. ‘Dramamine’, for instance, sounds particularly beautiful in all its faded, road-weary glory. Brock’s banjo accompaniment is always welcome, while any moment that sees his vocals pushed to their limit highlights the bands odd-ball charm.

Maybe next time they’ll dig out a few more of their sea-shanty numbers and I’ll leave really happy. Overall, it’s a crowd-pleasing, career-spanning set and it’s good news all round for the return of Modest Mouse.  

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