Summers in Arkansas are not for the faint of heart, exemplified by the heat and humidity preceding the evening hours when Modest Mouse would perform at the Arkansas Music Pavilion. Luckily for everyone who came out early to catch the opening act, Mass Gothic, the heat seemed to recede and a perfect summer breeze made its way down and across the hillside where we all were gathered.
The music of Mass Gothic carried well with it’s at-times grungy guitar riffs matched with the stellar vocal performances by husband-and-wife duo Noel Heroux and Jessica Zambri. The duo have been collaborating for 18 years and their energy and cohesiveness can really be felt in their stage presence and songwriting.
Mass Gothic concluded their set while the audience slowly amassed into the venue, eagerly anticipating Isaac Brock and the other members of Modest Mouse to take the stage. The sun had all but sunken below the hillside leaving behind its final traces of ambient light. The temperature and energy in the amphitheater were perfect. After the short changeover, the crowd swelled with excitement as the stage lighting dimmed, signaling the show was about to begin. The eight performing members of the one and only Modest Mouse took their positions and initiated what was to be quite the interesting ride over the next hour and a half. Within the first couple songs, classics such as “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes” and “Missed the Boat” rocked the crowd into rhythm, closely followed by their original hit “Dramamine.” The set weaved through their extensive catalog, taking the audience on a journey through the years, allowing us to relive all those visceral memories in our hearts, and taking us right back to the moments we all first learned of this phenomenal band.
On several occasions, Brock, the band’s lead vocalist, guitarist and primary songwriter, broke pace after they would finish a song to talk to the audience about whatever seemed to be on his mind at the moment. One instance included his adoration for the colorful balloons that an audience member supplied to add to the concert experience. Another included a slightly indiscernible long bit about the sporting goods store Cabella’s. Whatever his motives for these discussions, it seemed clear that he was having a good time onstage, which translated to an entire venue of good vibes.
At one point, Brock grabbed his banjo and began playing “Bukowski,” a personal favorite for this listener. The crowd swelled with cheers while many chimed in with the lyric “Sacrifice the liver!” Over the next hour, the band regaled us with so many great tunes we all grew up jamming to in our crappy car stereos with not a care in the world.
With a catalog as extensive as theirs, and no way to cover all the bases, Modest Mouse delivered one of the most genuine and well-rounded performances I’ve ever seen. As they closed their set with “Sugar Boats,” they exited the darkened stage as the crowd roared with approval and a longing for more. After what felt like a really long time and a crowd that just refused to budge, the band appeared onstage once again to give the encore that was sorely needed. They played five more songs in quick succession, including favorites such as “The World at Large” and “A Different Day.” We all thrashed and rocked to the delay-infused guitar stylings of Brock and company to the last note that was plucked. The encore did not disappoint, and as it ended, my crew and I filed out of the venue, for the show was surely over.
As my friends and I began loading into our cars which were a good five-minute walk from our seats, we heard someone speaking on the microphone. Goodness gracious, the show was NOT over. As we listened to the words spoken, the first notes of “Dashboard” rang out and the energy was right back up again. We made a mad dash across the large parking lot in pursuit of the entrance, where we were promptly refused reentry. After trying to convince the gatekeepers to let us in to no avail, we jumped around and danced the final encore away in the parking lot. The band played two songs in their second encore, closing finally with “Out of Gas.” What a show!
The night took us on a journey through some of the band’s best work from over the years and allowed all of us to chime in on so many powerful lyrics that still resonate within us. The music of Modest Mouse always represented rebelliousness and thought provocation to me growing up, and after last night my mind remains unchanged. After all these years, the band still has that spark that brought them into all of our lives and it’s truly awesome to see that their light has not dimmed.
Modest Mouse is currently on tour across the US and will be through November. I highly suggest making a point to see them if at all possible.
Photo Credit: Brandon Johnson