Modest Mouse rouses crowd but leaves fans wanting more

Modest Mouse rouses crowd but leaves fans wanting more

Review: Indie rock stars deliver deep cuts rather than big hits, but the show floated on anyway.
Published: October 3, 2018
Modest Mouse live in concert in Syracuse
Modest Mouse rocks out at Crouse Hinds Theater on Tuesday night.

In a parking lot in downtown Syracuse, two tattooed women leaned against a car while smoking cigarettes as they waited for traffic to dissipate after a concert. One flicked her cigarette and stamped it out, sighing — “I can’t believe they didn’t play ‘Float On,’ so not cool.” The disconcerted duo had just left the Crouse Hinds Theater where indie rock stalwarts Modest Mouse had performed. At the end of the night the bummed sentiment circulated throughout the entire crowd, tinging an otherwise successful show with disappointment.

Modest Mouse’s fourth album, Good News for People Who Love Bad News, released in 2004 with huge hits such as “Ocean Breathes Salty,” “The World at Large” and the aforementioned “Float On.” These are the songs most recognizable to casual listeners, and surprisingly, none of them were performed during Tuesday night’s show.


Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock live concert in Syracuse
Frontman Isaac Brock explodes at the start of Modest Mouse's concert Tuesday at Crouse Hinds Theater.

The band is one of few that have managed stay afloat in the turbulent rock music scene of the past few decades. Modest Mouse formed in 1992 in Washington and has been releasing music consistently for 26 years, earning a solid, long-term fan base.  Because of this longevity, the band can almost get away with doing whatever they please. Even without new songs to promote, they go on tour and take the stage with three percussionists, each with a full drum kit in front of them. On their current tour, play a completely different setlist every night. Exciting — yes, but their odd choice to exclude the songs that skyrocketed them to fame doesn’t come without some blowback.

When the opening band, Tropical F–k Storm, closed out their set with a friendly “Thanks for having us, Modest Mouse is up next,” the venue was calm and quiet with dozens of empty seats scattered throughout. As the house lights dimmed to signal the start of the show after a 50-minute intermission, the energy had completely changed.

The sounds of a rainstorm blasted through the speakers as blue and purple flashes engulfed the room. The crowd was hyped-up — not a single person was sitting or silent.

Lead singer Isaac Brock bounded onto the stage in a bright red sweater and rainbow-embroidered cap and immediately started their first song, “Missed the Boat,” followed by “Never Ending Math Equation” and “Bury Me With It.” Although the majority of the attendees didn’t seem to know the lyrics to sing along, the band plowed through the first three gritty and dynamic tracks with an electrifying intensity that kept the crowd entertained.


Modest Mouse Syracuse
Modest Mouse leadman Isaac Brock dons a Mello Velo racing jersey he said he bought earlier in the day.

Brock is one of two founding members left in Modest Mouse’s current line-up (drummer Jeremiah Green is the other.) The rest of the band includes seven multifaceted musicians, playing everything from guitar and keyboard to trombone and violin. Their skills were on display during the emotionally explosive jam “King Rat,” and contrasting “Autumn Beds,” a sweet and slow melodic song, both which feature Brock’s enthusiastic banjo playing.

The singer’s interactions with the audience were charming and playful, apologizing for mumbling his words at times and once teasing a fan who yelled for him to take his shirt off. An especially sweet moment came when Brock removed his sweater to reveal a Mello Velo jersey that he purchased at the local bicycle shop earlier in the day that he wore, oddly enough, backward, and said “I bought this in your town,” with a huge grin.

After playing 13 songs, the majority of which were deeper cuts from their discography, the band took a 10-minute intermission. Upon their return to the stage, things took a strange turn. “The Tortoise and the Tourist,” one of their newest tracks, was played, followed by “Custom Concern,” a 1996 release. After some solo guitar shredding and a performance of the lively but not well-known “Fly Trapped in a Jar,” Brock yelled out “that’s it for us,” and left the stage.

The abrupt departure and lack of grand finale vibes confused the crowd and, as the lights dimmed, and the thunderstorm sounds were broadcast through the speakers once again, it seemed as though the band would come out for a second encore. They didn’t. They have been playing 19-plus songs per show on their 26-date tour, why only 16 were played in Syracuse remains unclear.

Modest Mouse is obviously musically skilled. The band undeniably put on an impressive show with Brock’s emotionally raw vocals, surrounded by complex, polished instrumentals. The setlist could reward any fanatic who has been with the band through their career. However, excluding their biggest hits was a make-or-break moment for the casual supporter, and ultimately a move that may have put a dent in their central New York fanbase.