Excited about the addition of one of their native-son guitar heroes,
pun-happy British music journalists have taken to calling Isaac Brock's
art-rock band "Marrdest Mouse."
Nevertheless, it was pretty much the same
Modest Mouse that played a sold-out show Sunday night at the Auditorium
Theatre -- which is to say the sextet, one of the most unlikely
chart-toppers since the heyday of alternative rock, was a powerful musical
force sorely lacking in stage presence.
Underground favorites since their formation in the Pacific Northwest of
the mid-'90s, Brock and a revolving cast of supporting players won
mainstream success with the quirky hit "Float On" from the 2004 album "Good
News for People Who Love Bad News." The recent "We Were Dead Before the Ship
Even Sank" is a worthy followup: a dense, quirky and wildly creative disc
that is also wonderfully melodic and accessible. Unfortunately, the persona
Brock sports through many of the songs -- Captain Ahab reincarnated as part
punk-rocker and part wild-eyed preacher -- was present only in his strangled
singing and spirited screams.
The guitarist-vocalist stayed tethered to his two microphones (one for
the regular tortured vocals and another for the distorted parts) and said
little to the adoring crowd beyond some mumbled comments about the
vertigo-inducing heights of the Auditorium's balconies. The personification
of mod cool playing a Fender Mustang and adding backing vocals on stage
right, former Smiths ax slinger Johnny Marr was a valuable team player who
never put his own stamp on the band: He was there to celebrate Brock's
music, both the expected hits ("Float On," "Dashboard") and deeper tracks
new and old.
If you didn't know who Marr was, he did less to distinguish himself than
the band's two drummers, who locked into the rollicking grooves with a rare
ferocity, or versatile musicians Eric Judy and Tom Peloso, who decorated the
arrangements with distinctive touches such as accordion, trumpet and
electric stand-up bass. If you were a Marr fan looking for a new partnership
recalling the guitarist's memorable chemistry with the flamboyant Morrissey,
well, it was nowhere to be found.
In terms of its pseudo-orchestral arrangements, its twisted pop hooks and
its leader's unconventional voice, Modest Mouse has a lot in common with the
Flaming Lips, another group of underground heroes who've won a broader
following. Brock should take a cue from that band's live shows: He doesn't
have to buy a space bubble, recruit an army of plushies or buy some
balloons, but a little more effort in giving fans something to watch as well
as to listen to would do more to turn a very good band into a great one than
recruiting a celebrity guitarist.
Sandwiched as the middle group opening the show, Brooklyn, N.Y.-based
indie-rockers Love as Laughter brought an impressive range of dynamics to
their Velvet Underground-inspired grooves. But the early act, Grand
Archives, was a real revelation. The Seattle quintet has a strong pedigree,
including members of Band of Horses, the Fruit Bats and Ghost Stories, and
boasted perfectly rendered four-part harmonies in its gorgeous mix of