Modest Mouse brings forceful, confident performance to Blue Hills Bank Pavilion
BOSTON — Modest Mouse was a scrappy and defiant band for much of its career, paced by frontman Isaac Brock’s insistent bark and the head-bobbing rhythms of peppy but oddly shaped songs that made the group a sort of marching band for indie-rock kids with unimpeachable taste.
Then the perfectly poppy anthem “Float On” dropped in 2004, just in time for the velvet-rope revolution of dance rock. It was one of those summer-defining hits, pushing the band off the margins and setting up a chart-topping debut for its follow-up album (“We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank”) three years later, a commercial feat that previously seemed unimaginable. Perhaps Brock was unsure where to go from there, not emerging again with a new album until earlier this year.
The version of Modest Mouse that turned up at the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion on Thursday night is built to fill large spaces, with room in its eight-member touring ensemble for two lead percussionists plus a utility player who seemed to make only the most subtle contributions. Its jagged cadences have by no means been ironed out entirely, but the group now hits with blunt force. See deep cut “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes,” which was filled out into a wickedly propulsive romper that reminded of Talking Heads circa “Remain in Light.”
“Lampshades on Fire,” the new song that perhaps best evokes the band’s familiar, lilting march, got a tight and convincing reading. So did “Pups to Dust,” another new selection that showed off the full ensemble working in lockstep. The euphoric “Dashboard,” one of Brock’s late-period crossover gems, benefited from a full head of steam and Lisa Molinaro’s graceful violin lines.
The band fought through a muddy sound mix, but that didn’t really crimp the musical agenda, aside from muffling the vocals. (Brock was amiable and chatty, though I could rarely make out more than a word or two of whatever he said.) The sonic gist remained much the same throughout the two-hour show, even as Tom Peloso shifted from keyboards to cornet to bowed bass, Molinaro took turns with a synth, and others switched among guitars, keyboards, and sundry noise makers. (Lead guitarist Jim Fairchild was the only band member to stay on the same instrument all night.)
Modest Mouse will never be a slick band. But right now it sounds confident and comfortable. Perhaps that’s the most defiant move of all.
With Gene Ween
At: Blue Hills Bank Pavilion, Thursday