The mighty Modest Mouse

Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock in performance at the Alberta Bair Theater Sept. 3, 2009.

Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock in performance at the Alberta Bair Theater Sept. 3, 2009.

At times when Isaac Brock speaks, he’s unintelligible. But when he sings, it’s a different matter.

At Modest Mouse’s Sept. 3 appearance in Billings, Brock mumbled a few statements between songs, but it was his musicianship that impressed the most. Lead singer and guitarist for the indie rock band that hails from Issaquah, Wash., Brock fronts an accomplished lineup of performers (albeit Johnny Marr, former guitarist of the Smiths, was missing, perhaps out gigging with his Wakefield indie group The Cribs. Jim Fairchild played Marr’s guitar parts).

Modest Mouse lights up the stage at the Alberta Bair Theater.

Modest Mouse lights up the stage at the Alberta Bair Theater.

Modest Mouse played a range of songs from the band’s discography, including hits from their 2004 album Good News For People Who Love Bad News–arguably the one album that propelled them into mainstream success. They also dove into archives from This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About and The Lonesome Crowded West, the band’s first two albums, released in 1996 and 97.

Brock’s guitar produced a wild array of song, but his music was complemented by his eccentric lyrics. As the band’s main songwriter, Brock channels his poetic connection to language to create verses, which, in song, are quite infectious. From “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes” to “Custom Concern” to “The World At Large,” the set list spanned the group’s diverse repertoire.

The Night Marchers open the Sept. 3 concert for Modest Mouse.

The Night Marchers open the Sept. 3 concert for Modest Mouse.

Night Marcher's frontman John Reis, best-known for founding punk rock band Rocket From the Crypt..

Night Marcher’s frontman John Reis, best-known for founding punk rock band Rocket From the Crypt..

The opening act, the Night Marchers, featuring John Reis, frontman of Rocket from the Crypt, performed a fine set of rock’n’roll. Reis’ strident voice was a familiar and welcomed sound.

The choice of venue seemed unusual at the time I bought tickets, but when the lights went down, I saw the fine arts venue in an entirely new light. Though the ladies that help me to my seat at the symphony still walked me down the isle, the theatrical qualities of the surroundings didn’t seem to matter. People stood and danced in front of their assigned chairs, and the venue felt all right for a rock show.

After the concert I joined a group of friends for drinks, and as “Float On”—the radio hit that launched Modest Mouse’s international popularity— randomly emitted from the jukebox, I reflected on my long history with the band. From missing their Lonesome Crowded West tour in the late 90s (the band was a no-show at a Denver date) to the anger/celebration when the band went major with The Moon and Antarctica in 2000, to their 2005 appearance in Billings during the Good News for People Who Love Bad News tour, my relationship with Modest Mouse has been as complicated as their path to success.

Modest Mouse’s current tour marks a milestone in the members’ careers. Though not as mainstream as they were during the “Float On” days, Modest Mouse’s staying power and widespread appeal is a testament to their indie rock charm and commitment to their craft.

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About Anna Paige

Anna Paige is a writer, poet, and photographer advocating for live music culture, visual and performance arts, and the creative class in Montana through writing. More >>