Brand New & Modest Mouse
KeyArena, Seattle, WA
Perfect pairings are hard to come by, and everyone seems to be trying new angles these days, so when it was announced that Northwest alt-rockers Modest Mouse were pairing up with cult emo-punk heroes Brand New for a co-headlining 24-date tour, more than a few eyebrows were raised. Don’t get me wrong, we were first in line to buy tickets for their KeyArena date, but the insatiable curiosity of how this pair would play out was half the motivation.
For the second-to-last date of the tour, during which the two bands – with no openers – were trading off opening and closing spots, the night kicked off with Brand New, and a joke. Lead singer/guitarist Jesse Lacey approached the flower-covered mic, did a little “Smells Like Teen Spirit” sound check, and said, “Hi we are Modest Mouse,” to roars of applause. And then they hit with the non-stop trio of “Sink,” “Gasoline,” and “Millstone,” each hitting harder than the last, with double drummers and Lacey’s magnificent screams.
It was contrast of those crushing screams with his melancholy falsetto that let loose a riptide of emotion, thrashing the room awake. Three dude-bros in the crowd, directly over the corner of the stage, were jumping, shirtless, screaming along. Meanwhile, the crowd on the floor moved as one, in ebullient waves. Brand New has always held an intense persona, and their live show somehow managed to blow that out of the water with passion. It’s easy to tell that the tracks still resonate with the band, that they’re not just playing to play. And given the rumblings of the band calling it quits soon, for every minute of their show, it was clear that both they and the crowd were trying to capture the moment.
Songs from Brand New’s 2003 gold record, Deja Entendu, heard the crowd singing every last word, but really, that was pretty much the case for their entire set. There is such a raw, personal power to their tracks, and their performance, that not many bands can replicate. While Lacey didn’t say much, he did tease the Modest Mouse fans in the front row, thanking them for putting up with the swells of Brand New fans behind them. New track “I Am a Nightmare” drew anticipatory appreciation, but the most touching moment came with set closer “You Won’t Know.” Lacey takes a moment to thank his wife, and you can see the love and anguish pulling at him, as he starts the song, until it explodes into a massive wall of perfect instrumentation. At the end, he rips flowers off the mic stands and tosses them to the crowd before walking away, a collective
How any band could have been expected to follow Brand New’s resonant performance was near unthinkable, but Modest Mouse was still to come. After a long 30-minute break with a complete stage breakdown and rebuild, the Issaquah-originated and now Portland-based alt rock band finally took the stage, albeit their equipment was noticeably set about 15 feet back from the edge of the stage, separating the 8-piece from the crowd.
Right off the bat, lead singer/guitarist Isaac Brock’s equipment is causing him difficulty, whether it was actual malfunction or in his head is hard to tell, but his guitar tech is literally on stage right behind him constantly switching out and adjusting his equipment, which makes for an awkward transactional affair that was hard to ignore. They kicked off the set with “I Came as a Rat” and “Bury Me With It” and it was clear that MM was on track to deliver a set steeped in their signature weird sounds and expansive instrumentation.
When Brock spoke to the crowd, it was near incoherent and nonsensical in content. But the fans who were there to see them didn’t seem to mind much. They cheered, singing along for “Missed the Boat” despite a mid-song guitar switch, and crowd-surfed during “Bukowski.” Unsurprisingly, the opening chords of major hit “Float On” arrive and the crowd goes crazy, shouting along and lighting up a few phones. But their set, especially compared to a stellar appearance just last year at The Paramount, was lackluster, and felt a bit obligatory.
While the concert may not have inherently implied a comparison between these two bands, it’s hard not to make one. And Brand New’s passionate presence and intense connection with the crowd far surpassed Modest Mouse’s off-kilter delivery. Perhaps it’s all just a crapshoot, perhaps it’s BN’s impending exit and MM’s drive forward. Either way, we’re sure glad we were there, and plenty of fans left happy.
Review by Stephanie Dore
Photos by Sunny Martini
Brand New and Modest Mouse