Photo by JOSH PELTA-HELLER
At a punctual 9 PM this past Thursday, Isaac Brock martialed his Modest Mouse crew to their instruments, squared off with a house thick with expectant minions, and plucked the first waltz-time notes of “Dramamine” to kick off a luxuriant 20-song set.
The Golden Casket, their first new music in six years, offers elegiac overtones that include a music video for album single “We Are Between” in which Brock is crushed inside of a car in a junkyard. In the context of global pandemic and climate change, oppressive anxiety and existential dread may be the zeitgeist, but those aging indie-rock fans who may be alarmed by the explicit nod to a stand-off with mortality can lower one eyebrow: 17-year-old setlist cuts like “Bury Me With It” and “Satin In A Coffin” will remind us that for Modest Mouse these considerations are nothing too new.
By way of contrast, Brock and co. proffer on this tour the results of more dynamic experimentation a la Wilco’s Yankee Hotel or Dylan’s Basement Tapes, a shift in approach that sees them trading guitars for banjos, spacephones, vibraslaps, and even “soft-drink percussion” (not kidding, read the liner notes) that add up to a sprawling, tactile landscape of music that’s still packaged under the band’s trademark buoyant, staccato, uptempo euphony.
That’s a lot of growing, for a band that talks so much about dying, and as much a finger in the face of pandemic zeitgeist as were the hundreds of maskless faces of their (hopefully vaccinated) crowd. For better or more likely worse but hey — at least you could see all the thin smiles. — JOSH PELTA-HELLER