Tuesday, May 8, 2007

With Love in the Air, Man Man & Modest Mouse Make Magically Magnificent Music


It’s a satisfying feeling when the unexpected gives you an experience that reaffirms why you do what you do. Hours prior to this conclusion that same unexpectedness filled me with a great deal of apprehension and a certain expectancy of disappointment. I set content and chock-full as I downed my last hush puppy. To be honest I had been flirting with about as much anticipation for the meal I had just swallowed as I had for the concert I was about attend.

As we stood in the will call line negotiating the transfer of tickets I feared for the worst. We were surrounded by a sea of MTV2 watching, I borrowed my mom’s car, Noxema using teens, and most of them had had far more to drink than I. It was a sobering feeling.

Pete Townsend had it wrong, The Kids Aren’t Alright.

Upon entering the complex I was washed over by a wave of sad realization. Bleak concrete slab floor painfully echoing the searing guitars of Love as they ricocheted off the gymnasium bleachers filled with teens anxious to hear Float On for the nth time. It appeared the ghosts of my Modest Mouse trip to Raleigh of two summers ago were back to haunt. I despise all age shows, and its got nothing to do with old folks. One upside to going to a concert with people who can’t vote is the beer line. With an $8 Budweiser in hand I journeyed stage left and took in the remaining few songs of the first opening act.

Something about the sound of this band is both familiar and simplistic while still being exploratory. A novice with this group I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I heard was more than satisfactory and with about $5 worth of Bud in me, my spirits were starting to rise.

Love is an interesting mix of fuzzed wailing guitars layered over and over, rolling percussions sneaking in and out of these layers and a topping of vocals composed of stolen bits from numerous late grunge acts. All together resembling an easily listenable yet harrowing mantra of garage rock. In a lot of ways, Love is like Explosions in the Sky drunk on pop songs and Lou Reed. But, as we all know Love is confusing and often difficult to get your hands around. When we try too hard to understand it people can get hurt. Less the sting of bad Love, it’s the thrill of the chase that keeps you coming back.

Sam Jayne (lead man and former Beck accomplice) nailed the feeling in the room for their set when he sneered, “I feel like I’m at a High School battle of the bands. But I guess you don’t find that funny, seeing as you are all in High School.”

I was drinking down what he was pouring out and in full support of the band I laughed aloud belittling the teens with my five o’clock shadow and over a quarter of a century of life experiences. All in all a solid opening for the opener set. I am certainly going to illegally download some more of their stuff.

A quick $8 and I was ready for the overwhelming surprise of the night.

Tribal face paint, bleached white short shorts and a jet-black mullet formed as a warrior Indian headdress; quirky and bizarre? Yes and yes. Unsuited for the music? Not a chance.

Electricity shot out from the stage and shocked the crowd into a fever of the unnatural and unparalleled as the Mucho Machismo of Man Man swaggered their way into a whirlwind set.

Crowded on top of one another the drunken soirée of multi instrumentalists moved steadfast into a rumbling boil smorgasbord of Eastern European, Zydeco, ska, sultry cabaret with a hint of original Nintendo and little Frank Zappa to boot. The raw energy and bouncing freak show brought the instantly engrossed crowd into a world of stretched musical limits and wonderment. As soon as the vivaciousness of the opening track trailed off this collection of primates and pirates ripped right into an even more up-tempo composition. Murmurs and smiles broke out amongst the witnesses. “Who are these guys?” The answer: the best opening band ever.
Eye to bloodshot eye, the keyboards seemed to balance atop the drum set as it shook the Xylophones, which kept the bass from tumbling into the horns as their blasts managed to keep the teetering pile of blocks, guitars and myriad of percussion on the edge of insanity. Belting hard onto the skins of a drum drenched in water the subsequent splashes rained down on the wild haired, leg kicking, deep singing, white dressed ensemble. Their aggressively tipsy sound swayed back and forth certain to come crashing down at any moment, yet clawing its way right back up. It was going to take one Hell of a show from Issac, Marr & Co. to tackle this beast.

As I darted off to blow another $8 I realized plowing my way through pimple faced punks was well worth the show that was unfolding before me.

'They're shakin hands, they're shakin in their shoes Oh Lord, don't shake me down'

When the realization of Paper Thin Walls from 3 albums ago as the opening song hit me I knew this night was the gift that keeps on giving.

The exuberance, growl and perfected imperfections of the sound on the studio albums came to full fruition on stage. Perhaps its that Issac Brock (lead vocals, rhythm guitar and mandolin) is no longer addicted to drugs or maybe it was the new found energy and hope brought by legendary ax man Johnny Marr (The Smiths, Talking Heads, The The etc.), either way this band has grown into itself, and the fit is tailor-made. Two years previous the band seemed disjointed, unfocused and perhaps exhausted from the newfound success of Good News. This time around the hit singles and chart-topping album were old fiddle and the interest was back to the basics of the live performance.

'Does anybody know a way that a body could get away? Does anybody know a way?'

Marr was impressive, yet like his work on We Were Dead, his presence is subtle but crucial. To have embodied much of what was at a time one of England’s most prolific bands had (The Smiths), then to walk away from Morrissey to find his own calling, it seemed odd that he would have found his way to Modest Mouse. That is until you see them together.
Marr had no qualms playing second man, filling in on backup vocals and letting his guitar do its own leading. With some help from Marr, Peloso and lead strummer from Love, Mouse didn’t skip a beat without bass man Judy. The band looked well practiced and tight but they still sounded loose enough to keep you guessing when a new twist may come. Marr belted out two scorching solos and Brock followed suit in the jam session feel during Tiny Cities Made of Ashes as he brought the guitar to his mouth and like fellow Seattle legend Hendrix, spoke into the chords and plucked away with his teeth filling the room with a crunching feedback and robot like vocals.

To my delight the catalog covered was diverse and dug deeper than I felt it would. Hits like Ocean Breathes Salty, Float On and Dashboard came early, as if to get them out of the way and get to the business of working the new material out. They did give us a few treats along the way to keep the old dogs happy. Standouts included Florida, Education, Devils Workday, Fly Trapped in a Jar and Bury Me With It. All of which benefited from dual mics used by Brock adding a depth to his vocals and transition from his melody to his snarl.

Although the kids were rowdy, crowd surfing and throwing shoes on stage I must say I was hip to how privy they were to older and more obscure material. It seems time in the limelight has not forced the Mouse to play for the crowd of the moment, but rather the band’s exposure has introduced a new generation of listeners to explore the songs that got them to where they are today. That’s an amazing feat and a true homage to the quality of work this band has put out over the years.

“I’ve been down there before, but I’ve always managed to come away with my shoes,” Brock lectured as he returned footwear to a fan. Simple enough, but taken out of context it can say a lot about Brock himself. The dark, depressing lyrics of later year when he was lost in a sea of booze, drugs and self pity have found new waters and his ship seems to be sailing high, but he won’t soon forget the tide that lead the way.

The closure to the night came as Brock pulled anchor and finished with the drug anthem of Dramamine off 1996’s This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About, truly captaining the ship about face into rougher sea.

When the band walked off stage and all that was left were the swaying nautical lamps that dimly illuminated the unmanned instruments it was clear that nothing about the night had been Modest at all.

‘It was always worth it That's the part I seem to hide And the busy ant empire Put all your clothes inside’

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